(Image: "Vacationland Study" by David Graeme Baker)
Maine artist David Graeme Baker was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but grew up in Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of both Wesleyan University in Connecticut and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 2000, he and his wife Sarah moved to Maine where they live with their two sons in the town of Hancock.
When did you first realize that you were going to be an artist and when did you first start making art?
As I look back at my childhood, I can see the beginnings of my love of painting, but it was only in my second year at university that it really hit me. As a child I drew a lot, borrowed figure drawing books from the library, and loved my grade school art class. My high school had no art program, so it took a while at university to come back around to art making. As a result, I graduated from Wesleyan majoring in Fine Art, but then immediately enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Who or what inspires you?
The landscape and depictions of my family and friends within its embrace are catalysts for my paintings.
(Image: "Bee Balm & Shell Peas" by David Graeme Baker)
Is (or was) anyone else in your family in the arts?
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.
Are you self-trained or did you go to art school?
I earned a B.A. at Wesleyan University, majoring in Fine Art, and a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Is the process of creating your art long or short?
It takes weeks for me to make a painting, but often it takes months for me to plan it out and do studies. However, the creative process sometimes takes years as I mentally assemble an image before actually committing to an idea and beginning the physical process of sketching and painting.
(Image: "Late October" by David Graeme Baker)
Tell us something about your work.
Painting is a meditative process for me. I've created a routine—a process whereby I explore a visual idea, bringing it to life with paint while reflecting upon a tangle of narrative threads drawn from my life. My approach to painting has evolved into a lengthy process of collecting and cataloguing narrative and visual ideas around a theme. Actual places, objects, and people anchor the paintings, however more profound juxtapositions are then created through interpretation and rearrangement. I modify the images, welcoming changes until the very last day of painting. In fact, often while painting, a seemingly random idea (an echo of a conversation with a friend, a recollection of a passage from a book, a lyric from a song) causes a burst of discursive thought that eventually is layered into my thinking about the painting. The outcomes, rather than clean, iconic meta-images or narratives, are paintings with more purposefully modest, tangled, personal threads that function as springboards for empathetic contemplation. The resulting paintings are a mix of reality, memory, and fiction. They are a connection to and an exploration of the intersection of art history, literature, folk tales, traditional songs and most importantly to me: the grit, stress, and beauty of quotidian demands.
Do you have a subject matter that defines you as an artist?
I make representational paintings—in the simplest sense they are figurative paintings. Domestic scenes of women and children are often my subject; I use the scenes as foils for looking for deeper understanding of our condition and the roles that we play.
(Image: "Blue Stocking Day" by David Graeme Baker)
What makes you stay with a particular subject matter? Why are you drawn to it?
One could argue that all paintings are autobiographical....and mine would be no exception, though I would a go a bit farther to say that by the time I finish a painting, I empathize with all the characters in a painting. The narrative painter is like a novelist, he must explore the psyche of the characters in order to give them credibility. Sticking with a particular subject matter is my attempt to understand, contemplate, explore, and better know the world around me.
How do you stay motivated?
I keep a list of paintings that I'd like to paint, so if ever I get bored or tired in the studio, a quick look at the list and I feel an excitement for painting, for the next project, and for being able to see my visual ideas realized.
What have you been working on lately? Are you experimenting with anything new?
I have been working on a few large paintings: one is a tryptich entitled "Expatriates", that I posted on my blog in a nearly completed state. Another is a large painting of a young friend standing in the field across from my house. The third project I am just beginning: it features one of my sons in an interior setting looking at himself in a mirror with his arms outstretched.
Has your medium changed from when you first became an artist?
(Image: "Wedding Shoe and Urchin" by David Graeme Baker)
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
Take your art seriously. Put as much time into it as you can so that you can get to know your materials and most importantly, your vision.
What kind of comment do you despise the most when overheard at one of your openings?
There are no more chocolate covered strawberries…. ;-) Actually, there's nothing that really bothers me: everyone has different likes and dislikes...far be it from me to judge (or care).
What kind of comment pleases you the most when overheard at one of your openings?
I love hearing the stories that a viewer creates when looking at one of my paintings. Everyone has a unique response to a work of art, and though I have my own response to an image that I create, I am fascinated by what my painting may evoke in someone else. I have heard some responses that are similar to my own and others that are so different that I am quite amazed.
How have you handled the business side of being an artist?
Since I do exhibit and sell my paintings, I very consciously look at painting not just as a creative endeavor but also as an occupation, and therefore a business. I work with only a few galleries and don't typically sell work from my studio, so much of the sales and marketing is tended to by the galleries.
(Image: "Winter Tea" by David Graeme Baker)
Do you have any outside interests other than art?
Other than family, I play guitar and dobro (not that well, but well enough to enjoy it). I also love soccer: I play here in Maine at an indoor facility in Hamden.
Are you disciplined about your creative process (in other words, do you treat the process like a job, where you keep particular hours in the studio), or are you more spontaneous?
I keep regular hours: 8:00 am until 4:00 pm. 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—the creative/art part just happens.
How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art?
After 20+ years, it's hard to imagine anything else.
What is the best part of being a full time, working artist?
I enjoy working on my own; I welcome the solitude of the studio. That said, the flexibility to take time away from the studio when necessary is a perk. Though in a bigger sense, when a painting is going well, I feel a great pride in and connection to a tradition and cultural current that predates me and will outlive me.
(Image: "Seventeen" by David Graeme Baker)
What is the worst part of being a full time, working artist?
When things aren't going well, it can invade the mood of the whole house. From the business side, a drawback is the financial inconsistency. Over time I have become better at planning so that I have enough paintings in galleries and in progress to mitigate the ups and downs—but it is still unpredictable.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
Yes, in late August/September 2012 at Dowling Walsh in Rockland, Maine.
The chart below shows the growth of our online publication traffic (nb of visits as well as the nb of unique visitors) since our official launch in Spring 2008. Data provided by 2 independent sources.
Traffic: Portland (18.5%), California (11.7%), Midcoast Belfast to Rockland (9.7%), Brunswick/Freeport (9.5%), Augusta/Lewiston (8.5%), Bangor/Orono (8%), Massachuset (7%), New York (5.6%), New Hampshire (4.9%), Pennsylvania (2.3%), Bar Harbor (1.5%)
Demographics: Female (62%), No Kids (67%), Affluent (55%), Graduate and Post Graduate Level (65%)