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Back to the Source

10/14/2013

Now that Taylor Baldwin 05 SC has joined the full-time faculty in Sculpture, he says that it’s “surreal” to be back on campus working with professors he learned from as an undergraduate. “I’ve needed to create clear borders in my mind in order to be an effective teacher, but the fundamentals that I learned here are all still relevant today,” says the assistant professor, who’s also the department’s new graduate program director. “They’ve been the bedrock of my practice and I’m still using them as a teacher.”

While working in the art world and teaching at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, where he earned his MFA, Baldwin discovered that RISD’s Sculpture program is unique. “It gives you a concrete grounding in technique and materials that I haven’t seen in other programs,” he explains. “It allows you to use your proficiency with materials as a way to think through the project – to work at the speed of thought.”

As he discovers how his own way of working and thinking complements that of his coworkers, Baldwin’s goal is to bring something unique to the Sculpture department. “I’m interfacing with students at every step of development in the program,” he says, “from sophomores, who are still learning the fundamentals, to grad students who have been out in the professional world and are coming back to school to focus their energies. I’m trying to figure out what approach I can bring that challenges the perspectives already here so that students have to establish their relationship between two poles and find their own voice and identity.”  

As an artist, Baldwin is working to develop a practice that is “informed by virtuosity of technique but also exploratory and experimental in nature.” He works with everything from wood to metal to stone to found objects and materials such as used weed-whacker cord. Currently at something of a crossroads in his practice, he’s on the cusp of a new body of work. “I’ve reached a natural conclusion to the way I’ve been working,” he says. “The last body of work was largely sculptural, self-contained objects that sat on the floor but didn’t otherwise engage the space. I’m always looking for a new challenge to kind of confuse myself, so that I’m articulating new ideas and not just fussing around the edges. And I never want to know where I’m going to end up before I start working on an idea.”

Baldwin takes inspiration from nature – which he describes as “functional and authorless” – rather than from the designed world. He is using the colored weed-whacker cord, for example, to re-create the exposed tendons and musculature of a bird’s wing. “I’m interested in forms that are aesthetically appealing but clearly were not designed to be looked at,” he says. “If you are able to see them, something terrible has happened.”

Baldwin believes the key to balancing his creative practice with his teaching duties is to stay involved in both simultaneously so that he can relate to his students as a fellow creative and share ideas that he's just discovered. “It’s important to be able to say, ‘I was in the studio yesterday and realized that this applies to what you’re working on,’” he explains.

When working with younger, less experienced students, says Baldwin, it’s easy to take for granted skill sets and “realizations” that you’ve internalized as an artist. “A practice is made up of thousands of these tiny realizations,” he says, citing the example of “the importance of intermixing the conception of a piece with its execution – rather than thinking a project through 100% of the way in advance – so that you can be responsive to the material that’s in front of you. That’s something that you learn with experience.”

Baldwin builds that flexibility into his classes as well as his own artistic practice. “I’ll generally plan out the first half of a class and then give students options so they can choose their own adventure depending on what path their practices are taking,” he says. “Being responsive to the group dynamic is really important.”

Ultimately, Baldwin hopes that his own teaching style and skills will enhance the unique, independence-oriented sculpture program at RISD. “What sets RISD apart is that we teach students the specifics of the core sculpture materials and also how to teach themselves how to work with other materials and in other disciplines,” he says. “It’s incredibly useful to be able to do that when you get out of school.”

-Simone Solondz

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tags: alumni, faculty, Sculpture

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The façade of the Chace Center, a new multipurpose hub that opened
in 2008, offers an interesting contrast to the historic campus
buildings that surround it.