Artists' Manager Aretha Campbell asks 8 questions of Dan Baldwin, a leading figure in the Young British Artist movement and discovers what inspires him, his works on ceramic and his passion for drumming.
Manchester-born Brighton based Dan Baldwin (b. 1972) is a contemporary British artist who is famously known for his paintings’ dense and allegorical style which combines images on the canvas with symbolic references to mortality, such as skulls, with contrasting innocent imagery including children's cartoons. The blend of bright colours with the combination of morbid and pure imagery conveys a sense of realism to an otherwise fantastical landscape.
Baldwin attended Kent Institute of Art and Design and received his BA in 1995, and since has been recognised as one of the leading figures in the Young British Artist movement, with prints of his being collected by the likes Damien Hirst, Bernie Ecclestone and Gilbert & George. Baldwin has gained global recognition across his 30 year career, with solo shows around the world, along with artistic collaborations with artists Paolo Nutini and Sara Berman. Dan has permanent collections in Café Royal and the Groucho Club.
1. What do you listen to in the studio?
Music is a big factor for me when painting. I need to absorb myself into the piece and get locked in. Painting needs focus - I'm quite obsessive about certain artists, The Damned is one of them. It is part nostalgic as I've loved The Damned since I was about 12. Their last album, Evil Spirits is fantastic, so I've been listening to that continuously...for about 3 months straight...I have 17,500 tracks or so on my iPod though so usually have my headphones on - either on shuffle or on playlists and specific bands - I am usually wearing headphones. If no music is on, I'll have meditation playing.
2. Your work utilises lots of different imagery. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Many places. When I first started to make art, I was directly influenced by Peter Blake, Joseph Cornell, and Rauschenberg - using collage, vintage books, 3D mixed media, rare objects, toys, old bibles, wood, targets, guns, bullets, war elements... I've refined this process over 32 years; I no longer use 3D elements. I used to collect objects from boot fairs and jumble sales and then wait until an element was right for the piece I was currently working on. I am a bit of a collector of nostalgic vintage antique children's books, some are 100 years old now and I'm looking all the time for elements or bits that speak out to me. I scour archives, bookstores and online libraries for imagery that feels right and I take photos continuously and have done for 32 years. My own photography would feature, for example, a ripple of pond water, a fence silhouette, a tree silhouette, or elements from nature and textures, which I upload and manipulate so I have an archive of imagery - part real life, part imaginary and illustrative. Then, at some point in the future - I don't usually know when - these may be used as a source of inspiration. In my last series of works - Fragmented Landscape - I was only interested in a refinement of textures, or colour, select elements from nature, whereas the new paintings have gone very loose, and I'm working with charcoal and loose mark making -- and I'm back to wanting figurative elements.
3. What message do you have for young aspiring artists?
Give it everything, I was obsessed. I haven't stopped for 32 years, making art every day, you get out what you put in. I used to buy 10 sheets of paper a day and make ten works a day - if one of them was good that was a good day's work! I think working on paper is valuable, to play, and try everything, I counted my sketch pads from the last decade - and it was over 100. Always write things down, draw it out, if you can see it in your mind, you can hold it in your hands. It's important to get ideas down on paper, then it will become real.
I've tried everything from painting, ceramics, photography, textiles, animation, printmaking, life drawing. Try everything. I'm always experimenting all the time and looking at other artists. It took a decade from graduation for me until I began to be a full-time artist. The journey grows from one thing to another, from a charity event to a show, be generous, I donate a lot a year to major events, make prints, printmaking is vital. Peter Blake once said to me that printmaking was the sole factor which enabled him to go full time - it was true for me too. It became my monthly paycheque.
4. Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
I'm in a group show now in Zurich, alongside some major photographers. I'm just about to ship out two rolled tarpaulins and canvasses to Dubai for a group show, to a gallery who I showed with in Beirut, in their new space. I have a ‘print and work on paper’ show in Dublin in June, and finally, the commissioned pot I made for the Bicentennial of poet Keats is on tour, heading to America next.
5. You recently started working with ceramics, do you see that as an extension of your painting practice?
It totally is an extension of my painting, yes, but to what extent depends on the painted style of each pot, which goes in many directions with some very painterly and very symmetrical, some looking more classical. I actually first made ceramics in 1991 at art college, trying a few ashtrays and plates. However, it was later - in about 2004 or so - I was buying junk from the pound shop and hand painting them, like plates and then some pots, with a marker pen - that lead to the first imported bisque pots from Italy, factory-made, which I drew on and fired, and that developed to when I was working with a potter on some major ceramic works around 2013/4/5, really pushing ceramics, 3D cast elements, lids, sculptural elements, gold silver lustres, photographic decals, etc. They have now developed to where they are today - not even clay, I have terracotta resin pots custom made for me in Athens which I hand paint. I love my pot development.
6. Do you prefer working in the morning or evening?
My cottage is joined to my studio. I can walk in there at 7 am and still be there at 2 am. I tend to get in there properly at midday until late and then return later when I can really get into the zone; painting needs intense focus, you sort of get locked into the piece and can be in it for a 4 hour period, then snap out of it, and need to get away from it, then return later with fresh eyes and reassess, as you can overwork it, you've got to get the balance right! I love the closeness of having the studio just there, but also am relocating this year to hopefully build a bigger space. I'm developing sculptures, huge pots, and my paintings can be pretty huge. I think at night I'm really in the zone - more so night than morning!
7. If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you would be doing?
I was obsessed with drumming in my teenage years and was in a band in Brighton. Later on, we had a few gigs and recorded an album. I still drum every day, and often wish I'd stuck to being in a band, and miss it -- but art was the only way. Once I went to art college I was obsessed. My son now plays the drums, so maybe I can be his manager and do it all again - tour the world! My childhood thoughts on career were simply ‘carpenter’, as I liked to build things like my halfpipe, used when I was a skater. I still like building and working with wood, and recently built all our garden planters, so would like to build a log cabin and studio.
8. If you could invite 4 artists round for dinner, who would they be?
I think I'd invite Warhol as he is one of the most important artists who really changed the way we see art. I'd invite Bacon, as he would keep the champagne flowing and fill the room with filthy innuendo and laughter, and probably Hockney as he is the master - and I've loved his work since 1990. Peter Blake would be a good choice as well, but maybe I'd throw in a female - Bridget Riley or Frida Kahlo to balance it out a bit. I went to her house in Mexico. Basquiat, Haring and Lichtenstein are all welcome too.
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