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Between the bars: Lily Alice Baker
October 27-November 21, 2023

“Drink up, baby, look at the stars

I’ll kiss you again, between the bars

Where I’m seeing you there, with your hands in the air

Waiting to finally be caught”

—Elliott Smith, Between the Bars, 1997


For her California debut, COL Gallery is pleased to present a new body of work by London-based painter,    Lily Alice Baker (b. 1998).


Baker’s paintings are based in an intuitive gestural style anchored to the body and draw on the theatricality of human interaction and the nuanced ways in which gender is performed. Her large-scale canvasses with their luminous, anthropomorphic figures demand attention and hold space for Baker to offer a potential public arena where social constructs are called into question. “Everything’s a hyperbole in these spaces,” Baker says, “People blur into one organism, whilst others become isolated. Everyone’s character is heightened.”


After a residency in Mexico City, where these recent pieces were made, Baker’s paintings retain the euphoria of connection found in her earlier bodies of work, but they take on a surreal dreamlike quality as past and present collide. The propulsive bodies in her imagined mis-en-scenes are derived from fragmented interactions, conversations, and collisions from her life in the UK to her travels to Mexico and United States. There is a choreographic element to her compositions, a push and pull, much like that of the traditional dance of salsa, witnessed during the works creation.


Contradictory forces remain an ongoing theme of Baker’s practice—the safe enclosure of a bar versus the potential threat hovering beneath the release of intoxication; to conceal versus to flaunt, to be intimate or to isolate. Her works are a battle between contradictions as she portrays the impulse to find oneself while simultaneously to find a group and space in which to belong.


Baker’s paintings are palimpsests of her lived experiences; as memories collide, these new works express the many nuances of humanness. In her words, “The imagery I draw from for my art is a twisted, fluid body, an embodiment of my memories of people I have interacted with, who continue to shape who I am. I have always been drawn to notions of the romantic, the beauty that love between people brings, the hot flush you get from being seen and heard by someone you love, but also in these enticing scenes created with bold gesture and colors, there’s a layer sitting behind of anxiety, melancholy, or anger—much like humans themselves.”


The specter of addiction continues to haunt Baker’s practice and dipping bodies like knocked over wine glasses are frequent characters. A foreboding eeriness exists behind the euphoria—between the lustful romanticism of human connection and alcohol, her work likens these highs to a siren’s song at once alluring and sensuous while simultaneously (and ultimately) dangerous.


The title of the show is inspired by the music of Elliott Smith who like Baker, blurred the edges between his art and his life, commingling the two. Smith famously struggled with various addictions and they both create a picture of the world that is not quite complete, mirroring their awareness of the limitations of human understanding, the struggle between the evolving and deteriorating “self.” “We learn who we are by blending into others,” Baker says. “It requires bouncing between people who view the world differently.” Ultimately, both Elliott and Baker approach their subjects with empathy and an understanding of human complexity, frailty and perhaps, finitude.

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