Chris Baird's show review on KQED

February 4th, 2013

Surround Yourself with ‘Bad Company’ at Park Life Gallery

By Sarah Hotchkiss | Jan 30, 2013

In a small exhibition at Park Life Gallery, local artist Chris Baird presents Bad Company, a cohesive selection of new works across a variety of media. Three large-scale enamel paintings and a satellite grouping of collages, a print, and one 3D work draw on text as object, image, and source material. The books of Baird’s inspiration won’t be found on the shelves of Park Life, making the aesthetics and installation of the back room gallery intriguingly self-contained and self-reflexive.

The work in Bad Company elaborates on a series of book boxes included in the recent Popular Workshop group show Somewhere in the Fold. The plywood boxes supported by wedge-shaped shelves contain stacks of similarly sized paperbacks of a similar theme. Mostly of the self-help variety, the featured titles at Park Life include Venture Inward and Combat in the Erogenous Zone. In all of Baird’s book boxes, the combinations emphasize humorous redundancy with a sober pathos. In reference to the exhibition’s title, the work queries: Who — or what — is the “bad company?’ People? Or the self-help books with which you surround yourself?

In this vein, Baird’s work is reminiscent of Nina Katchadourian’s ongoing Sorted Books project, a series of found poems constructed within various libraries and private book collections. Like Katchadourian, Baird presents the viewer with tantalizing spines, but denies access to the books’ content. Baird implicates the viewer in his collections. Many of us scavenge curious-looking paperbacks out of free piles on sunny weekends. Most of these will remain unread. By boxing the books, Baird either puts a halt to collecting or celebrates the grouping, leaving room for more sorting, more piling, more accumulation without absorption.

As attractive as titles may be, Baird knows covers are even more seductive. In three large-scale enamel on canvas works, he renders graphic paperbacks as glossy paintings. Untitled (Suffering) is the poster image for the show, a bright blue field with a white and orange symbol beneath the word “SUFFERING.” The other two, Untitled (Horse dream) and Untitled (Jumping someone else’s train) are rendered without text. The graphic elements and color palettes are from a former era, instantly pleasing in a familiar way. All three provide no clues as to where they came from or what information they might contain in their original form.

Two collages made from horizontal strips of offset posters come from a different design aesthetic (think neon signage), but form a bridge between the book box and paintings. Echoing the horizontal titles of Untitled (Book Box), the thin strips of brightly colored paper contain hints of letters and content. In one orange and green collage, the repeated bottom edge of a decapitated letter creates an Agnes Martin-like pattern, with dayglo traded for neutral tones.

What puts Bad Company beyond a visually-pleasing collection of wall works is the space it creates within the gallery. Baird pays particular attention to the boundaries of things, whether they are multi-colored frames or tightly fabricated containers. The gallery itself is demarcated by a raised plywood floor, painted black with the same glossy enamel gracing the central painting of the show. The floor is bounded on all sides by a blue ‘frame.’ During the opening reception, this piece, titled Wade-ing through the Blackness (Floor) provided a stage for a live band. For the duration of the exhibition, it will provide a viewing platform for the juxtaposition of image-less text and text-less images, creating a space in which to contemplate our own relationships to the things we find ourselves inexorably drawn towards.

Bad Company is on view through February 28, 2013. For more information visit