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Escape, Release, and Return


The artist reimagines Robin Beth Schaer’s poem “Messenger.”

Leslie Baum’s idea to reconstruct Robin Beth Schaer’s poem “Messenger”—first published in the December 15 special issue of Guernica, on religion in America—arrived as a challenge from musician and visual artist Damon Locks, who had invited his peers to join him in crafting a four-page, black-and-white comic that would employ themes of “escape, release, and return.” Baum, who met Schaer while on residency at the Yaddo artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs in the summer of 2012, recognized “Messenger” as “fantastically visual. This is the quality that propelled me to use it as the foundation, the text, for the comic.” Schaer’s lyricism reminded Baum of several painters whose work she references in the piece, among them Henri Matisse, Philip Guston, and Jean Dubuffet. Dividing the poem into workable sections through multiple drafts, Baum used watercolor to hand-paint the illustration, though she is wary of the term: “Illustration suggests, to me at least, that the images are the maidservant of the text. I was more excited to discover a visual language that was in dialogue with the poem. I was seeking partnership and play between Robin’s language and my own.”

Born in New Jersey and raised in Atlanta, the now Chicago-based artist has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions nationwide, most recently at Ohio’s Hiestand Gallery and Devening Projects + Editions in Chicago. She is currently completing “Portals,” a series of oil and spray-paint canvases, and working on multimedia projects with sculptor Allison Wade and programmer Frederick Wells. Of her collaboration with Schaer, she says, “The simple fact of working with another is transformative.”

Sarah Sgro for Guernica
Leslie Baum, Messenger, 2015.
Gouache on Arches watercolor paper, 8.5 x 11 in. Courtesy the artist.


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