Left: Hilary Baker, 1727 E. 107th Street, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches; Right: Hilary Baker, High Voltage, 2021, Acrylic on linen, 24 x 24 inches | Credit: Josef Woodard
As implied in its name, the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang takes conscientious aim at nature in its element, generally focusing on art about the natural and animal world. Something slightly different is afoot with artist Hilary Baker’s fascinating exhibition Wildlife on the Edge. A Los Angeles native, now based in Ojai, Baker sidesteps the natural world, per se, and deals — in her clever, cagey artistic language — with the uncomfortable intersection of wild animal life and urban/suburban spaces. The show gains relevance at a time when weather and drought conditions are driving wild animals into human-occupied areas, including Santa Barbara.
A bear lurks in a 7-Eleven parking lot. A mountain lion evokes both languid sensuality and potential peril outside the suave, now-defunct Parisian Room in Los Angeles, and a bat perches above the Hollywood Bowl, unimpressed. An implied question in Baker’s show: Which is the intruder, resident animal life or human-imposed developments on once unspoiled land?
Baker’s art often crosses boundaries between abstraction and representation, with wit and an actively imaginative palette in tow. In her recent Predators series, she uses her minimalist, hard-edged graphic style to put these creatures in our face while creating a visual filter and scrim. Hints of a Spartan, cartoonish ambience distance us from the prickly reality of wild animals in the backyards, side yards and border regions of our urban comfort zones.
Baker’s taste for ironic juxtapositions adds layers of witty references to her imagery in the series, as seen in the comic relief of “Red-Tailed Hawk, Van Nuys Drive-In,” with the avian subject as accidental moviegoer during the ripe cinematic moment of Janet Leigh’s shower scream scene in Psycho. “High Voltage” banks on the high-contrast, visually striking image of a woodpecker and a high voltage warning on a utility pole, with its implied sense of danger.
L.A.-based landmarks are seen in new perspectives, through these impervious creatures’ eye views. An albino mantis is seen in the historic (and frequent movie location) Bradbury Building downtown, while Simon Rodia’s folk art shrine Watts Tower plays backdrop to an Anna’s hummingbird, aloft and aflutter.
In what qualifies as good nature-reclaiming news, “Burrowing Owl, LAX” showcases the abandoned town of Surfridge, adjacent to LAX and now “a haven for California creatures.” “Pocket Mouse, Camp Pendleton” depicts a captive breeding program for endangered species. Hope hangs on by its claws, in the wild and in the town. —Josef Woodard
Wildlife on the Edge: Hilary Baker is on view at the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang (1511-B Mission Dr., Solvang) through March 6, 2023. For more information, visit wildlingmuseum.org.
Left: Hilary Baker, Bat, Hollywood Bowl, 2019, Acrylic on linen, 24 x 24 inches; Right: Hilary Baker, 7-Eleven, 2022, Acrylic on linen, 24 x 24 inches | Credit: Josef Woodard