With his bronze wall pieces Andrew Baxter proves that he is as much a master artist as a master conservator. 

Patina Thrills

Andrew Baxter is a metal conservator who lives in Richmond but who travels extensively around the nation restoring and repatinating sculpture. Baxter is one of the best in his field. He has conserved works by Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, Edgar Degas, Frank Stella, Nancy Graves and Jasper Johns. Developing and perfecting complex patinated finishes is one of Baxter's particular concentrations. With that in mind, one may ponder, when viewing Baxter's own creative work at Astra Gallery, whether these weighty bronze wall pieces are better classified as sculpture or paintings, as pallets or palettes.

The works on view span a period of 18 years representing an extended period of art making that has occurred in the interstices of his demanding art restoration business. Baxter's earliest pieces are tablets. Square in format, they measure approximately 10 inches by 10 inches and are made by using a lost-wax technique. These early works are more finite, occupied to their margins with hieroglyphic shapes in relief. In some instances, they are highly polished so that the bronze takes on the appearance of silver. In others, they are aged to assume an archaic mien via oxidization. The tablets are exactingly arranged and intensely scripted. There is a larger vocabulary of glyphs, or encoded markings, and more of a musical notation to these works than Baxter's later pieces will evolve to express.

Those tablets in the exhibit that feature highly polished areas tend to incline somewhat toward the precious, the decorative, the scrupulously preened and manipulated. They implicate themselves with overscaled jewelry or elegant service accouterments, and are thus detached from the enigmatic painterly pieces that constitute the rest of the show. However, they acknowledge their material most earnestly. It may be a prejudice to find fault with preciousness, for certainly gold and silver leaf have enjoyed a radiant presence in manuscripts, canvases and wooden sculpture through time. In this last century, stainless-steel forms have risen to gleam at us from sculpture plazas in most cities. Nevertheless, shiny metal usually presumes a citation or trophy of some sort, which makes those works that employ it feel very different from the others.

The works that represent the recent focus of Baxter's attention are the most numinous. Exquisitely patinated in the richest imaginable color, they visualize the vast microscopic wonders of the natural world in its relentless state of chaos. Although Baxter professes a modest relationship with the physical sciences, he explores them adeptly and poetically in these meditations on their proceedings, probably because he encounters science regularly in his profession.

In "Brownian Motion" he packs the center of a bronze plaque with bustling particles that vie for space, nuzzling into and over each other like tadpoles in a puddle. The pollinated surface of blue-green, where the struggle occurs, comes from cupric nitrate (a basic coloring ingredient in many of his "paintings") inside a quieting brown ferric nitrate ring. In "A Cross The Great Divide" he sections the disordered state of the universe into four parts to gently manage the frenzy of animated shapes into some order.

These later works are sand castings, which, unlike lost-wax castings, are subtractive in process. Baxter creates a sand and resin form into which he files or gouges simple repeating shapes in various aggregations. They often suggest mandalas .as they seem, principally through magnetism, to gather into and radiate outward in circular patterns. The outer edges of the bronze pour are allowed to retain their irregular appearance and so continue the suggestion of a mandala form. They may also call to mind slices of living tissue prepared for microscopic study, or geodes that have been broken open to reveal a crystalline world of a natural event within.

"Andrew Baxter Cast Bronze" is a beautiful, beautifully arranged show. Arrange your own atomic particles to make time to go enjoy

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