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Ex-baseball player successfully tries his hand at art work

By ALAN BOSTICK, Staff Writer

Former big-league reliever David Baldwin finally got a call from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Turned out they didn't want his jersey or his cleats.  They wanted his painting, Fugue for the Pepper Players, now part of the museum's permanent collection.

Baldwin, now a 59-year-old artist living in San Diego, has turned from hanging curve balls to hanging canvases, from painting corners to painting semi-abstract figures.

"Brief Candles," a series of 12 mixed media pieces inspired by Shakespeare plays, opens Tuesday in Vanderbilt University's Sarratt Gallery.

It was all the travel during his pro baseball years when his trademark side-arm curveball was winning games for such teams as the Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox-that gave Baldwin the chance to visit this country's better art museums.

That exposure was part of the reason Baldwin decided to take up art himself after he was laid off as a geneticist and engineer several years ago. He holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Arizona, but opted to turn to his artwork to rescue him.

Pondering his baseball ties, he figured a quick way to gain credibility might be to create a baseball image. The Hall of Fame did its part by accepting it, a move Sports Illustrated noticed and reported.

After that, the artist moved on to Shakespeare, whose plays offer more than enough inspiration for this artistís particular brand of work

"It started in early 1996," he explained. "I had the idea of painting a series of works based on some form of entertainment. I decided Shakespeare was a natural for my sort of abstract technique because nobody knows what his characters ought to look like, and I had a free hand to illustrate them as I wanted."

He read through the plays, picking out scenes he liked. Which ones attracted him? Passages that included an ironic element. Those with a modern feel. Or simply scenes that struck him as visual.

His Portia's Dilemma comes from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. Portia's father had decided his daughter's suitors were to choose from three caskets in gold, silver and lead. In one Portia's cameo was concealed.

This particular image also illustrates the artist's fascination with geometry. "I use it here to direct the viewer's attention to what Portia is doing. The lines lead into Portia's hand and then her hand points on a line toward the casket."

Other images - which use exaggerated shapes he says were inspired in part by work of Jean Dubuffet, Lionel Feininger and Rufino Tamayo - are drawn from such plays as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, even Richard III. They each measure 48-by-30 inches. Baldwin's compositional method, which begins with a lengthy series of sketches, includes creating a rich texture on his canvases of paint, sand, even glued-on fabrics.

Gallery director JoEl Levy Logiudice said Baldwin was selected after submitting slides to Sarratt's student-run selection committee. His inclusion reflects the gallery's interest in featuring emerging artists with defined artistic personalities.

Baldwin's next project, incidentally, involves a series on characters from the history of science.

Copyright © 1998 The Nashville Tennessean

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