You might expect a certain amount of flamboyancy from a man who paints such colourful artworks, but Jeffrey Baker is refreshingly down to earth about his life’s work and his passion for connecting with people through art. Here he talks to Fiona Baker about his upcoming exhibition, and how he got to where he is today.
Where are you originally from, and what drew you to the Coffs Coast?
I was born in Cowra, and my father’s job enabled us to travel throughout NSW, so I lived in lots of different places until I settled in Coffs as a young man in the early ‘70s. This is where I had my first art exhibition.
I remember coming through here on a surfing trip, being at Diggers Beach late one afternoon, and afterwards we had a meal and a beer at the Hoey Moey, and I thought, “Wow, this is pretty cool.”
I was working in the surfing industry. I was employed by Bob Cooper (of Coopers Surf Shop) decorating surf boards, and from there on worked with other local surfing personalities and companies up and down the coast, travelling as a free agent, before I eventually came back and settled here.
> How would you describe your artistic style?
It’s something that I’ve cultivated and developed over many years, and it seems to have its own direction. In my earlier painting, there was a strong element of surrealism, and I was seeking to expand what I was doing into different visual areas.
The recent paintings still have that surreal, landscape aspect to them, but I’m utilising a lot more of the things that are a part of the world around us, such as water, rocks, sky and plant life. All the principal things that make up our world are the things that I enjoy placing into the paintings.
> What inspires you?
I’m appreciative of the things that are a part of our world. As I am getting older, I tend to pay a lot more attention to the things that are around me, like architecture, colour, perspective, form and design, balance and release.
I use these things and develop them in my own way. I tend to want to maintain my own identity, and with that comes a sense of integrity, not having to rely upon what other people are doing.
> You have an exhibition coming up soon. What can we expect?
I have an exhibition over the holiday season at Opal Cove Resort, running from 29 December to 23 January. The collection will include a range of things, such as original paintings in different styles and sizes, reproduction pieces of previous works I have created, and also smaller framed prints and gift items such as cards.
I enjoy holding the exhibition at this time of year, because I meet visitors from all around Australia and overseas, and my work has come to be a part of homes all over the world.
Over the years that I’ve been doing this, I have enjoyed meeting many wonderful people. It’s also great to be showing my art in a resort, where people can come and relax, have a look around, maybe have lunch or a cup of coffee.
> Tell us about your studio / gallery …
I am located just outside the central business district in Coffs Harbour. My studio is very comfortable, as it allows me to display my work and also has a workshop space where I can build things. I have never tired of being an artist; I don’t consider what I do to be a job.
I’m very fortunate to do what I do, and I feel blessed. The studio is open to the public from 10.30am – 5pm Wednesdays to Saturdays and 2 – 4pm on Sundays. I am also available to open the gallery by appointment for anyone travelling through.
> If you had one piece of advice to give to the budding artist, what would it be?
We are born with a purpose, each one of us, and with different gifts and talents. If you would like to pursue a creative path, find ways to make it happen for yourself and seek good advice, but don’t be impatient.
Think about what you are thinking about, and ask yourself, “What decisions am I making today that will benefit me tomorrow?”
In my life I have also found that practical application of your talent is sometimes a greater asset than reading up about it. You don’t necessarily need to continually educate yourself in order to find your creative role.
In putting together a body of work for an exhibition, or working towards a certain theme of work, you may present it to your viewing audience and it may be received well, or not well at all. Learning from these things is the key.
The road to the future is always under construction. I like to take every day as an opportunity. A lot of things that have happened to me have been based upon simple opportunities: a phone call, a choice you can make to go either way. They are like little doorways that are open, and they are available to each and every one of us.
> What are your goals for 2011?
I would love to do some travelling with my wife, particularly in Africa. In some of my art I feel there is a visual connection towards some elements of that land. I’m not sure what it is: perhaps the colour, perhaps the culture or the shape. Visitors to my studio often remark on the similarities between my designs and the African landscape and vegetation.
As well as travelling, I will be focusing on some private commission pieces. I really enjoy the personal relationships that I have formed with the people who become part of my world.
After the initial contact, I try to meet with a client at their home or workplace and then design something from there. We discuss what style of my work they prefer, and I work towards that. We work together, and it becomes a very personalised thing.
I feel honoured to look back on my records and see the clients I have worked with around Australia and the world. I feel as though once I have created a painting for someone, I am a part of their world. It’s a great feeling.
> Thank you Jeffrey. Good luck with the exhibition.