Richard Baker has painted for most of his life, since he was three—“when my mother gave me toxic chemicals,” he likes to joke. Through the years, his career working as a curator of mammals at a large zoo and his hobbies—exploring Florida’s swampy terrain and fly fishing and mountain biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains— immersed him in nature. When it came time to sit at his easel, paintbrush in hand, mountain vistas, rocky streams and placid lakes were among the images he naturally gravitated toward creating. Through his more than 30 years of painting professionally, Baker has become known especially for his atmospheric and realistic paintings of water and mountains.
Now, having retired from operating galleries in Saluda, Asheville and Waynesville, he finds that he can put himself back out in nature doing the thing he loves best: painting landscapes in oils. “When I ran studios all these years, I was open to the public seven days a week,” he says. “In my galleries, people had to come to me. Now I want to take my art out to the people.”
Last year, Baker formed Smoky Mountain Plein Air Painters, an informal group of artists who seek the beautiful WNC places to paint, gathering once or twice a week. He is glad, Baker says, when people want to stop and talk to him about art while’s he’s on location in Maggie Valley or Lake Junaluska or by the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Besides regular outings, plans include demonstrations and exhibitions with the group.
Baker found his many years running galleries and meeting the people who enjoy his landscapes satisfying, but, he says, “You can’t replace not being there. It’s hard to replicate the beauty of WNC without seeing it and feeling these mountains under your feet. Although plein air painting is not an easy task, the color is in front of you. You’ll see things that you can’t see from a photograph.”
Find Richard Baker’s work at BalsamRidgeGallery.com and on Facebook at Balsam Ridge Gallery, or call him at 828.234.1616. His work is also available at Mountain Nest Gallery in Black Mountain. For more about Smoky Mountain Plein Air Painters, visit SmokyMountainPleinAirPaintersDotCom.wordpress.com or find the group on Facebook at Smoky Mountain Plein Air Painters.