Art Talk | Stephen Baker
Stephen Baker is a Melbourne artist who creates paintings on canvas in distinctive geometric shapes, fine outlines and a simple and restrained colour palette. In his paintings, Stephen creates stylised works that blur the boundaries between escapism and reality - we see geometric figures drinking in bars or simply hanging out at the beach. We caught up with Stephen to find out about his creative process and how art has always played such a big part in his life.
Hi Stephen, when was your love for painting first sparked? It's hard to tell really, I think it's just something that evolved out of other art practises. Up until 8 years ago I was mainly focused on detailed black ink brush work and lino print collages, all of which had minimal colour. I knew the only way I wanted to work with paint would be in a more print style aesthetic, where the paint would only serve as flat bold areas of colour. When I grasped the methods of producing this using acrylic paints it did become quite exciting and I've been fairly busy ever since.
Do you have a muse? Could you tell us a few of your sources of inspiration? I can't say I have one central muse but the closest I'd come to giving anyone this title would be the American illustrator Maxfield Parrish. I've always admired his depictions of idealised imaginary worlds. There's a sense of escape that's present in his work and calmness, something I definitely resonate with and try to adopt within my work. I find there's also underlying graphical elements that structure his work, again having a graphics background I myself connect to this strongly.
You use such wonderful pastel colours in your current work - why are you drawn to these tones? I believe they set the mood for the painting, perpetuating this sense of an idealised world one can step into. Keeping quite a tight colour palette feels less threatening to me, with the latest work I didn't want to shout anything to the audience.
How would you best describe your aesthetic? Recently I described my artwork aesthetic as being quite considered, bold in colour, shape and line work. I tend to use a semi-gloss varnish to keep quite a flat finish across the large areas of single colour.
What are you most passionate about? Probably the sole act of creativity, producing something that wasn't there in the first place, especially in the areas of the arts.
The fact that someone has spent their time creating something for a bigger audience to experience is very noble I think. If it weren't for the musicians, poets, writers, painters or anyone associated in the creative arts, the world would be pretty bland and unchallenged.
What’s been the best lesson learnt since you started working as an artist? Structuring your seemingly 'care-free' and sometimes 'non-existent' work life. Being an artist means you're on your own when it comes to creating and handling workload. To be able to set down some routines or achievable goals for the day, week or year really helps put things in perspective. Over the years I found that in my line of work there can be periods of no work, which can get really stressful. I've learned to identify these moments and act accordingly to try and lessen the stress levels. Sometimes it will mean taking a break from everything and going on a short holiday. Earlier on, I found it hard to know when to take a break, and still do sometimes, but it's necessary for your own well being and creativity to switch off. I don't feel as guilty now when I decide to take sunny days off during the week whilst others are stuck in an office. I'll still be sketching for a upcoming show, but I don't need to follow the rules of the 9-5 work day schedule. An artist needs inspiration, so walking around and being amongst life is far more conducive to a creative output.
Tell us about your creative process - do you work intuitively or is it planned? Most of the sketching stage is intuitive and derived from reference materials at hand. I'll start to develop scenes that at first won't seem connected but then slowly draw a lose narrative between them all. I'm beginning to allude to a more planned and structured environment with recent works, so I may need to further plan out my sketches in the future. After I'm happy with a sketch I'll refine it and add this to a collection others that'll become the base of a new collection. At this point it becomes quite planned and organised. All the selected drawings are given one colour palette that is rearranged and adapted until it feels right. When I have clear map of how everything will look it's only then I start mixing up paints and applying this to the canvas.
Has art always been a big part of your life? I would say yes it has been a major part of my life from an early age. Maybe not the study of art, but definitely the practice of various forms of art. As far back as I can remember I had always liked to draw and was encouraged by my parents. My father and sister are both quite creative themselves, so it runs in the family.
What are you loving at the moment? J. G. Ballard novels, The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney, Singer Songwriters, Aldous Harding & Marlon Williams, the film A Ghost Story and season one of Cosmos on Netflix.
What’s in store for you in 2018? I'm building up a new collection of works for a show in March here at The Meat Markets in North Melbourne. It'll be the largest installation to date so I'm really excited. I already have about half the show complete and will be spending the next 3 months working on the rest. Further down the track in August I've also lined up my first solo show in Sydney, which will be held at Saint Cloche.