At his easel, Augusta artist Baker Overstreet has created a candy-colored world inhabited by bold, graphic figures marked by both a sense of mirth and menace.
His paintings, on display through Feb. 14 at the Mary Pauline Gallery, 982 Broad St., borrow heavily from pop and primitive traditions, eschewing perspective in favor of shape, color, line and, most important, character.
Each piece features a character, or characters, rendered in a bold, iconic style that leads the viewer to believe that Mr. Overstreet's assembled army of fanciful animals and humans has existed in comic-book dreams for a lifetime.
"I certainly borrow from all those sorts of things," Mr. Overstreet said. "It's something that's important to me. For one thing, it makes people laugh. But I also think it encourages people to look. For me, it's interesting to see how people respond to something they perceive as familiar."
The Mary Pauline show will feature sets of work based on the same theme. The first are small, character-study pieces, each featuring one figure. The second is a series of expansive works on paper, where multiple figures are given some space to interact.
"I actually prefer to work large," Mr. Overstreet said. "I like the idea of standing in a painting rather than viewing it as an object."
Still, Mr. Overstreet said the smaller pieces, which are really studies for potential large works, seem to profit from their diminutive size.
"The idea of a painting as an object is always a bad idea," he said, shuffling through a short stack of the smaller works. "I actually really like the way you can stack these up and flip through them. They become like trading cards - little icons."
There is some darkness in Mr. Overstreet's work. A small gun appears in one piece, adding an element of menace to a conversational tableau. In another, a cat is captured with its face frozen in either a smile or a snarl.
"What I'm interested in is the relationships between these characters," Mr. Overstreet said. "I love what can be said with a glance, the direction of a head or the position of a body. There can be something sinister about it. A diverted gaze becomes an issue of trust, and the shape of a smile can be used in a way people might find difficult."
He said working in a style that is so figure-driven leads to a certain amount of relationship-building.
"I am sort of personally attached to them," he said with a small shrug. "I will assign them personalities and give them names and, maybe, talk to them a little. It's certainly not like a relationship with another person. It's more like a favorite blanket, or maybe a teddy bear."
THE ARTIST: Baker Overstreet
THE VENUE: The Mary Pauline Gallery, 982 Broad St.
THE DATES: Through Feb. 14; opening reception 5-8 tonight; gallery hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.