In mid-flight, traveling from Miami to Rome, Sara Kontoff Baker couldn't help but stare outside her small, cabin-sized window at massive land masses scattered throughout Europe's landscape. She was intrigued by "nature's intervention," some areas heavily forested and others largely destroyed. "I had this idea where I thought maybe I could regenerate what I saw into two-dimensional images working with light," she says.
Baker, an 82-year-old artist and scholar, has pieces exhibited all over the world in galleries like the Holographic Museum, 49th Street Gallery in New York, the Boston Society of Architects, and Sister City Exhibition in Kyoto Japan. She specializes in light imagery, with works ranging from neon, holographic sculptures to 2-D light works without a camera.
Her latest art-light imaging project is currently on display at the Haitian Cultural Center (NE 59th St., Miami) through Wednesday, November 25. "I was asked to submit pieces for the show because of how experimental my work is," she says. "They were looking for artists doing modern and experimental stuff, which is why I think I got selected."
For this project, Baker wanted to expand on people's perceptions of reality. "We observe things in bits and pieces overtime that create a larger picture," she says. "That's what I took away from my flight, and what I want to show in my work."
Her first piece was created by her curiosity of using light, but no camera. She made small, paper-structures, put them on top of a photocopier, and placed lights in different locations. The lights reflected on her sculpture, and after photocopying, created an abstract piece on paper. "With a lot of trial and error, I got some I really liked," she says. "I kept some small, but enlarged others. And some I colored with colored-pencils to enhance its three dimensionality."
After experimenting with regular paper, Baker started to print her abstract pieces on metal and black Plexiglas with the same theme in mind: reality in terms of abstract landscapes. "What we see as reality is actually a fragment of reality," she says. "We only see a little bit, and we can't understand with just a little bit. There's so much more out there. We are just a mark of a much larger landscape, and I hope they will discover that through my work."
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She says that science and human interaction have influenced her latest series and artistic career. "I see things in terms of process," she says. "I'd like people to look at the process going on in my pieces, instead of being too literal saying, 'Oh, that looks like a person's head or my cat!'"
Baker's first solo exhibit was in 1978 in Rome. The artist says she had no intention of becoming an artist until she took a painting and sculpture class to fill up spare time. Her children had become adults, and Baker comments on how she finally had time to pursue other interests. "I ended up going to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and getting a Masters in visual studies," she says. "When I was at MIT, I ended up becoming hooked on neon. I realized it's the most elegant form of energy. It's so pure."
Born in Boston, Baker moved to Miami in 2012 and lives beach-side on Collins. She says the vivid colors of Miami Beach inspire her. "Before moving here I had to squeeze in my work," she says. "Now I'm so thrilled everyday is my own. I can't wait to get up in the morning and explore and learn."
3 Works by Sarah Kontoff Baker
On display until November 25 at the Haitian Cultural Center located at NE 59th St., Miami. Visit littlehaiticulturalcenter.com.