This coloring book is a perfect dialogue between myself as an artist and the art museum in my hometown.–Reginald Baylor
Ted and I visited Reginald Baylor’s studio space in development in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood to talk about his new coloring book collaboration with the Art Museum during a freakishly cold spring storm.
Car heater roaring and windshield wipers racing, we pulled up to a charming mid-century building on the corner of Sherman and North that was clearly undergoing an exciting renovation and re-invention by the Finney Arts Incubator.
Built in 1953 as the Finney Public Library, Baylor’s emerging studio space already has a rich history of community engagement that the artist plans to extend by creating what he calls an “invitational type of experience, an accessible experience.”
Including his role as the first “Artist in Residence” at the Pfister Hotel in 2009, Baylor has “always had a glass storefront studio. People could always see me, my door was always open.”
The dialogue about artwork being accessible needs to be more prevalent and I think the Milwaukee Art Museum doing a coloring book is a perfect example of understanding that conversation…Myself as an artist, I’m always thinking about how to make my work and the creative community accessible and yes, that does influence what I do visually. My artwork is often about that conversation, visual illustrations of that conversation about accessibility.
Growing up in Milwaukee, visits to the Art Museum were one aspect of Baylor’s education as an artist. Another priceless component of his artistic upbringing was the validation of his community.
Among family and my teachers, I was always “the artist”…People celebrated that gift and so, I believed it. I was never, ever at any pointed discouraged by anyone…there was a cheerleader type recognition that it was going to be a difficult path, but everyone was like “go and do it!” That’s a huge blessing in itself.
The affection and admiration Milwaukee has for its celebrated painter is mutual—Baylor has deep roots in this city that continue to grow each year. And, like many locals, he considers Milwaukee’s art scene to be at the beginning of an exciting renaissance.
I honestly, passionately believe in my heart that this is a 40-50 year growth for creativity in this city. Not just my generation, but into the next and I think it’s going to be world-class. And I’ve said this forever, but it started with MAM, it started with that architectural statement—the city invested and believes so much in it art collection and its art community that it put out a beacon that be seen worldwide and we get to experience it every day ourselves, locally. So, it’s a constant reminder, a constant light out there on the horizon that this is a world class creative city.
Featuring Baylor’s original drawings of artworks in the Museum’s collection, the Milwaukee Art Museum Collector’s Edition Coloring Book is the result of both that commitment to the Museum’s art community and the values of accessibility and collaboration which Baylor exemplifies. The coloring book exists as a collaboration on multiple levels: Baylor is collaborating with the original artists of the works he has drawn for the coloring book, he is collaborating with the Museum on choosing artworks that best represent the far-reaching collection, and he is collaborating with the individuals who participate by contributing their creative coloring choices to the drawings he has crafted.
Music has always been a major source of inspiration in Baylor’s life and he often turns to musical metaphor to explain artistic processes. He sees a direct comparison between someone coloring in a coloring book to musician playing an instrument:
Like giving someone a piano, the notes are there on the page. The coloring books are the notes of a song someone wrote. It’s going to be tough to grab the artistry of classical music on a piano when you first start. You play a few notes, but the more you do it, the more you understand the basic principles of what a painter goes through. That’s what I’m hoping the experience is for the people coloring. Once you feel like you have a good grasp on mimicking those notes, experimenting and coming up with your own version of a song is really what the coloring books are about. I call them “cover tunes.” When I draw a Kehinde Wiley, I’m doing a cover song.
The painting St. Dionysus, 2006 by Kehinde Wiley for which Baylor created a “cover song” shares a gallery with Baylor’s own 2010 painting, On Duty, Not Driving and the work of another Milwaukee artist, Tyanna Buie, a fact that Baylor calls a “testament to a Museum that is dedicated to its local artists.”
It’s interesting to be in the Museum collection—what does that mean? It’s the prize of the prize…in the same manner, it is as prestigious to work with the Art Museum on a coloring book.
The Milwaukee Art Museum Reginald Baylor Collector’s Edition Coloring Book is available online and in the Museum Store. Each coloring book is a work of art, individually signed and numbered by the artist.
Check out this video to hear Reginald Baylor discuss his approach to creating a coloring book page inspired by Janitor, 1973 by Duane Hanson for the Milwaukee Art Museum Collector’s Edition Coloring Book.
Donele Pettit-Mieding was Museum Store Marketing Manager. She organized Museum Store events, promotions, and communications and introduced visitors to art and design objects to enjoy in their daily lives.