Born in Seattle, Washington in 1929, Jo Baer studied perceptual psychology at the University of Washington before switching to painting. Her studies in Gestalt psychology, a 20th century school of psychology emphasizing that the whole of anything is greater than its individual parts, was a persistent influence on her hard-edge minimalist works of the 1960s and 70s. Baer relocated to Europe in the early 1980s at which time her output turned from minimalism and toward figurative works that incorporate symbols and recognizable images as well as text.

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