Paying homage to the female form, fire writer Latisha Baker transforms reclaimed and upcycled wood into evocative works of art. Like Oya, the Nigerian goddess of fire and weather, who wields her sword of truth to cut through conflict, Baker channels emotional angst through her wood burning pen, configuring stories of fear and pain into tableaus of healing and hope – dancer’s feet, gesturing hands, torsos in silhouette, women in repose, portraits adorned with calla lilies and birds of paradise. This ancient art form has been practiced by artisans for millennium throughout Africa, including Egypt.
Baker works with a variety of woods—newly cut and reclaimed, but prefers the latter, “because it exemplifies nature’s endurance during periods of adversity, comparable to the human spirit," she states. "Before I begin developing the image, I search through my inventory of reclaimed wood and I explore the wood’s characteristics. Oftentimes, the source of inspiration is a wood knot, an unusual grain pattern or some odd imperfection.”
Inspired by the teachings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Baker embraces the discipline of “mindfulness” as she works in her West Oakland studio, focusing her thoughts and energy into deliberate and conscious attention as she meticulously scores and then paints the wood.
Utilizing pyrography as her healing meditation allows the artist to remain fully present as she creates elemental patterns. Baker focuses conscious energy into the lines and dots she burns on her canvasses – scrap plywood and cabinet doors – as a way of finding balance, inner peace and self-understanding; always working in harmony with the natural grain, incorporating the knots and blemishes into the finished whole. Embracing these imperfections, instead of attempting to eradicate or camouflage nature’s patterns, Baker adds depth and dimension to her chosen art form. Traditional pyrographers, no doubt, did the same. “The finished work is a continuum of a spiritual practice representing elements of grace, contemplation, fear, pain and joy,” says Baker.
An adolescent when she was first introduced to wood burning techniques by her father, Baker explored many art forms before she found her expression as a fire writer. From the mid-1990s, when she began selling her much admired one-of-a-kind, hand-beaded earrings (her original “ear cookies,” shaped like vanilla wafers, are popular among collectors of her work), Baker has transitioned from a popular street festival and crafts fair vendor – Ishama jewelry design, wearable art, handbags, keepsake boxes, a line of printed notecards and mini-posters – to a respected fine artist, with her latest one woman show – Moments of Mindfulness: New Works by Latisha Baker – which opened at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland earlier this month.
In life, as in wood burning, in Baker’s skillful hands imperfections add character and depth. . . and timeless beauty.
For more information and to view Latisha Baker’s work, go to www.latishabakerartworks.wix.com/latishabaker.