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Imagine that perhaps Hello Kitty and a few characters from your favorite Golden Book series decided to have a medieval feast, inviting knights and ladies, and served Fanta laced with LSD. The end result would look like a Nancy Baker oil painting; chaos, beauty, and exploding colors amid manicured landscapes and European castles.
A skilled painter and installation artist, Nancy has exhibited through the United States and beyond. In addition she maintains her hilarious blog www.tireshop.blogspot.com detailing the ups and downs of the gallery world, and contributes to www.anonymousfemaleartist.blogspot.com which addresses the issues of female artists in a still male dominated market. Here's how our little Q&A went down...
How/when did the combination of medieval and psychedelic imagery come about?
Nancy Baker: My favorite place to visit as a kid was the Cloisters, a reconstructed and reconfigured medieval monastery that is part of the holdings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. My family situation was very unstable, and the precision of the International Gothic Style of late medieval art appealed to me. The jewel like leaves, flowers, blades of grass, were always presented in a very, tightly almost manically hypnotic manner in environments that are utterly hermetic. When you look at a Northern Renaissance painting, it seems airless and suffocating, but icily sublime and eternal. The Ghent Altarpiece is a good example.
I was also very attracted to the representations of quotidian life, especially the work of peasants and laborers. There’s a lot of dark humor in these characters, and tragedy as well. When I was looking at all this stuff in college, it was definitely a no fly zone. I was so out of whack in my interests and aesthetic leanings with all this forbidden kitsch that I went underground. I left NYC and moved to Tennessee. The psychedelic stuff might be a revelation to some, but I’m old enough that I lived it the first time around. So for me it is a natural reweaving of my original history, and it informs the medieval stuff with some contemporary relevance.
I know that you collect a lot of images from the internet and other sources, do you have a set idea and images for a painting before you begin work, or do you gradually choose as it develops?
NB: I do all the preparations on my computer. The process is somewhat fluid, I have hundreds of images that I have collected (stolen) over the years and reference these files continuously. I know beforehand what I am going to do, but it always changes in spite of my best intentions to control the outcome. I have never been particularly hell bent on the painterly process. I wanted the work to have a machine like, authorless look. If I could have just silk screened it all, I would have been happy! I guess I have always been suspect of all the heroics of the lonely genius painter. We can thank Warhol for busting up that cheesy monopoly, and more contemporary artists such as Felix Gonzales Torres as well, who gave away pages of his work at his openings. There is nothing I hate more than artist as monarch. I don’t have to name names, but you all know who I am talking about.
The true schizophrenia of my intent always comes shining through whenever I write about these things, because I truly and sincerely have a love hate relationship with what I do, but if there is one thing that I am not confused about it is how intensely I despise the art world and its corporate politics. I liked it better when there was a vow of poverty to get into the union. But all that changed when artists wised up and correctly noticed that only the dealers and the collectors were getting rich.
With hints of paint-by-numbers, and characters from Golden Books, a lot people don’t know if you are embracing elements of kitsch or poking fun at it. Is it the case with either, or is it just a genuine interest and something you find enjoyable to paint?
NB: I have been accused of playing both sides of the fence. I just finished a painting called “Bambi”. I did these deer paintings after I found out that it was not cool to paint cloven footed creatures in 2008 because they were everywhere at the fairs. I also know that curators generally don’t know what to do with my paintings, because it doesn’t benefit their “curator as artist” agenda, so sometimes I keep this in mind when I am working, and up the ante on the kitsch infusion. I get dismissed a lot, and sometimes rightly so. When I get scared and fall back, my half effort is a disaster. So my advice to other artists is know your enemy. It’s probably you. Fear and self doubt is not a good motivating force, it usually squanders creative capital in all that wallowing of self pity. Lord knows I’m an expert at that.
Art school enrollment -- and tuition for that matter -- is at an all-time high, after attending the School of Visual Arts do you think it was worth your time and money?
NB: Ha! When I went to SVA it was a distant millennia. My tuition was $800 a semester. My daughter was accepted at my alma mater for the fall semester, but when we added up the numbers, it was a $200,000 degree, and SVA is cheap compared to RISD and MICA. My daughter is going to VCU in Richmond, which has an excellent art department, and is number one in the country for sculpture. This school isn’t cheap either, since we live out of state. But if you live in Virginia, you have struck oil. The bottom line is this; the price of a college education has gone the same way as everything under the present regime in the US. The gap between rich and poor is as great as it was at the turn of the century, when robber barons ruled the US. So until people wise up and notice the enormous transfer of wealth from us ordinary people to the rich and powerful, we are getting what we deserve.
I know that you were running a gallery in Raleigh NC for a while that was part of your studio, do you find there is support for your efforts in Raleigh, or do you still have to look back to NYC for recognition and patrons in general?
NB: Running the gallery was great fun, and I met a lot of really wonderful and creative people. There is support here, but it takes a huge amount of effort, and either you are a gallery owner or you are an artist. Props to those out there who can do both. But the truth is that you have to be part impresario, part agent, part bullshitter, and part academic to have any impact on your career. I have always worn a lot of hats, and have loved every minute. Well, almost every minute. There’s a lot of crap in this profession that really hurts.
I do have lots of people in Raleigh and nearby environs that support my work. I grew up in NYC and so I still feel very tied to that universe. Ultimately, there are limited professional opportunities here, so I am always looking to get my “brand” out to other places.
With the internet affording artists a way to market themselves, on demand printing options, and mounting one-time exhibits on their own, do you think art galleries will go the way of the music industry where essentially the “middleman” will cease to be necessary much like record labels and publicists?
NB: No. When it comes to big ticket items, patrons and collectors do not like to buy from artists directly. There are just too many business issues that artists are not comfortable with, and collectors genuinely don’t like to negotiate with artists. There are a lot of backroom dealings that would seem very sleazy if brought up in the open, so gallerists are a good front for this. You didn’t hear me say that gallerists are basically pimps, but I have heard this from others. This indictment is so shocking and unfair. I do think, however, that there is a huge sea change in affordable art. I know lots of artists making a damned good living from selling $10 prints online. I am amazed at the business sense of these younger entrepreneurs. This is definitely a very huge populist movement, and I am always a huge fan of breaking up the elitist log jam of top tier artists.
I’ve had to do some serious rethinking about this issue, because I was brought up to believe that art and money don’t mix. (My parents were both artists). Artists have historically gone through all kinds of bizarre contortions of spirit to balance these roles out. It really wasn’t until Pop Art and the sixties that this changed, and everyone realized it was a crock of shit to walk away from the money while your dealer was getting rich and buying a vineyard in France.The On Demand Printing thing is huge! I just published my own 48 page full color, full page bleed catalogue. This cost me ten dollars, and I can order 1 or 1000. So that means I can upgrade this thing whenever I have some new work. I also know a lot of cartoon artists whose work I really admire who have legitimate careers publishing their own books.
You are a team member on anonymousfemaleartist.blogspot.com which addresses how female artists are still considered a novelty and for the most part get shit on in the art world -- it also manages to be funny as hell. How did your involvement come about?
NB: My proudest moment is when Charlie Finch on Artnet called me a “Bastard out of Carolina”. Unfortunately, Anonymous female artist has gone on sabbatical, but hopefully will return when I have the time and energy. I have been turning my attention to my own private little piece of paradise, the Tireshop blog.
Any shows, projects, or publications we should keep an eye out for?
NB: You’ll just have to tune in for future announcements! I did however, just finish publishing a catalogue, Duck and Cover Drill which is available for purchase on Lulu’s site, and should be available on Amazon in the near future.