Castle by David Baker, Oil on Linen, 24x26inches, 2013
Fledgling, David Baker, Oil on Linen, 38x50 inches, 2012
SB, David Baker, Oil on Linen, 18x26 inches, 2013
Forecast, Oil on Linen, 30x45 inches, 2012
These are the paintings of David Baker, an artist living in Maine, born in South Africa. I recently came across David's work and felt an immediate visceral connection with his style and subject matter. In the interview below he shares some of the personal details behind these very beautiful and enigmatic works.
David can you tell us if art has come up through your family or has it more or less begun with you?
My mother is very creative; she is a very talented seamstress and has recently become a dedicated weaver. As long as I can remember she has made things with her hands: crafts, clothing, decorations. I grew up with the attitude that if you want something, you can easily make it yourself. That said, there were no fine artists in my family, so pursuing a life/career as an artist I've looked to friends and colleagues for advice and guidance.
What kind of early experiences did you find formative that helped you choose art as a vocation?
I was definitely a doodler when I was a child. Starting around age ten I became interested in how-to-draw books. I remember getting books from the library that had quick tips on how to draw animals and people--not very sophisticated stuff, but I learned to draw superheroes which in turn became more traditional figure drawing. My high school had no art program (and I was more interested in athletics) so my early interest lay fallow until I attended Wesleyan University. There I was inspired by an artist and very talented draftsman Stephen Fisher. I remember him telling the class that his ability had come from hard work and perseverance rather than so-called natural talent. Somehow that pushed me to stick with drawing, though all around there seemed to be students who were more talented. Another formative experience was a meeting that I had with my sculpture professor Jeffrey Schiff. I had asked him to be my advisor when I applied to become and Art Major; he took the time to both encourage me and to explain that life for an artist was not easy or glamorous, but that it had its own rewards that could only be measured inwardly by the artist. This came at a a time when I really needed some guidance as well as some confidence in my creativity. Both Stephen and Jeff appealed to a stubborn side of me that encouraged me to dig in and stay focused at a time and at an age where that was very challenging.
Can you tell us a little of what your working routines look like these days?
As far as routines go, my schedules is very traditional: I keep regular hours: 8:00 am until 4:00 pm when my sons get home from school. I have always tried to think of myself as a painter rather than an artist. By that I mean, my job is making paintings, and I must go to the studio everyday to paint.
From a creative point of view, my routine begins with a mental image--usually not very clear at first--that I develop through rough sketches. Once I put pencil to paper, additional possibilities both pictorial and narrative begin to accumulate around the original seed idea. I then sift and refine my thoughts around the concept before hiring a model to pose. Once the model is in my studio, new possibilities emerge that I must consider and possibly incorporate into the concept. At this stage I often recall an anecdote from Norman Rockwell's autobiography in which he describes wanting to paint a model wearing a green sweater, but when she shows up at his studio she's wearing a red one and he becomes so enchanted with the reality of the red that he forgets about the green. I am often reduced to a similar state--seduced by the real colors and forms that happen to present themselves. I've learned not to rush the initial, planning part of my routine. Letting an idea percolate for a few days (or sometimes months) adds new layers of complexity and meaning. Once I've got a fairly clear idea of how to approach the actual painting, I refer back to photos that I've taken of the model as well as the original sketches to make a few drawings to work out the compositional elements and to (hopefully) expose any difficult passages. I then transfer the drawing to a panel or canvas and begin to paint. I tend to start my paintings with thin washes of earth tones, working out the major elements tonally before expanding my palette with more color.
How involved are you with the business side of your studio practice?
I take care of all the business for the studio. However, I must admit that I've been lucky enough to work with gallery owners who are very proactive and thorough when it comes to the promotional side.
Can you share some advice that you came across early on that has paid out well over the years?
There are a few bits of advice that I think were very instrumental in helping me stay the course as an artist. The first from Stephen Fisher, that I mentioned above. However, once I started to become more interested in painting, I received some great advice from Glenn Rudderow, an instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He told me to push myself to do "conscious" painting. He meant that every decision--no matter how small--from planning to execution of a painting is important. It's not just the big decisions of what and how to paint that matter, but also the seemingly small ones such as deliberately and properly choosing a color or cleaning a brush that have an impact on the painting. He called me out a few times when I was a student for being lazy with some of my decisions and it has a very lasting effect on my mindset when I work. Glenn also joked about having "clean" thoughts when painting: Clean brushes, clean palette, and most of all clean colors.
Lastly, what contemporary artists have help light your particular path?
There are many contemporary artists that I look to for inspiration--be it for imagery, color, or technique. Here's a sample from the bookmarks tab on my browser--in no particular order: Ben Kamihira, Randall Exon, Sally Mann, Justin Mortimer, Jamie Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Bo Bartlett, Ann Marshall, Alex Kanevsky, Golucho, Michael Workman, Antonio Lopez, Linden Frederick. Add to that list some of my friends who are artists: Cig Harvery, ColinPage, David Shevlino, Christine Lafuente, Phil Frey, Tom Curry, Nathan Florence
One can view more of David Baker's paintings at: