MEET THE ARTIST//STEPHEN BAKER
BY SHAUNA SIEGER

Friday morning–a day we all wish was everyday. The sun is heating up and it hasn’t even hit 9 o’clock yet. As the it creeps through the trees and onto my skin, I walk to Smith Street. Wandering through the hustle and bustle of people hurrying to their day jobs, grabbing their caffeine hit and smoking their last stick of nicotine, I walk down Perry street and pass a laneway covered in art and design work to a studio space and enter.

The artist of interest and a Melbourne local, who’s work projects a colour array of geometric shapes and tranquil narrative is a much appreciated artist in my eyes and the public, Stephen Baker. Capturing the likes of the Melbourne art scene since graduating from Swinburne, Stephen has injected his artistry into Melbourne through many forms of medium, from album art works to posters and one of his most prized piece “Pool Parade” a mural along side the Fitzroy Pool–which gained recognition through the eyes of the beholder alongside the Melbourne art scene. He has made his mark consecutively, which is seen throughout his work of simplistic line structure and complementary colours, only protruding him into a dimension of visual appreciation. As I settled into his studio space, I press record and begin to talk with Stephen Baker.


Shauna Sieger: You’ve been called a master of simplicity, by being able to animate a whole scene by using uniquely minimal approach using line and colour. In your own words, how would you describe your aesthetic and can you tell us your influence with style.  

Stephen Baker: It all stemmed from doing a lot of detailed pencil work as a kid and while I was growing up, but it was all black and white to begin. It then became a little barbarous task for an end result and I felt like it wasn’t too far from reality, so it made me want to switch it up and actually have fun with my work. Patterns became of interest, so I would just fill areas with patterns and line work. I guess it came from taking that out, reducing it, and just seeing all the line work in life generally.

I love walking the streets and taking photos. Taking from that a perspective and I would draw lines out of that, which is something that I enjoy and has filtered into the work I am doing today.

Bringing in colour was to me a good challenge as I never really used colour. In my eyes, the less the detail the more of an open interpretation, due to seeing an image, reducing it as telling a story without using too much detail throughout.

S: Your works often depict solitary figures caught in moments of contemplation, whether it’s a man returning from a ‘Rough Day’, to an identifiably feminine figure indulging in a evening cigarette over a balcony (and for that matter, in a bar and in a lobby). What draws you to these particular subjects and how does your re imagining these scenes through vivid outlines and geometric colour create narrative and meaning?

SB:  Yeah, I guess, a lot of it is some kind of escape, it’s places and environments that I have enjoyed in the past, whether it be with friends, or by myself or with my partner, moments that kind of stick. So, a little bit nostalgic, where a lot of the nostalgia that I work with is reimagined, it’s capsulating different hotels or room with my partner and they are really nice moments and maybe it’s just all that, and I just sketch that perfect sort of scenario.

Some of these paintings try to capture that, so if you are at home and have that on your wall maybe you can escape to that aswell. Bars and those kind of environments i feel i kind of escape from the world ~ It’s a relief for a moment.   

 

S: You’re well known in the Melbourne’s community for your hand painted mural ‘Pool Parade’ on the outside facade of the Fitzroy Swimming Pool. How did you come to be involved with the project and how did you tackle translating your work into a large scale public mural that succeeded to reflect the character of the venue?

SB: That was the first outdoor and large scale mural project that I was asked to do–I sort of tendered for it, an expression of interest to the City of Yarra. Unsure how I got their email but I asked or looked it up, I think I already had done some council projects prior (Off the Kerb gallery) and through the expression of interest you win the tender.

I had to think in a community perspective, when designing that which where a lot of it simplifies and the use of colour, I saw that evolve and change my work because I had to create this massive piece. The responsibility of the theme (Eastlink and train debacle) and how I would present that, there was protest, and I wanted to stay away from that and not have my piece reflect a certain side at the time.

I made it about transport, because what is the main thing here? It’s the pool, it’s great. People come here using their bikes, walking using trains, trams and even cars, and I just threw it all in there, it’s a gathering of people.



S: You largely engage with audiences on social media and ostensibly use it as both an online portfolio and content feed. What are your thoughts on Instagram as a platform to showcase art?

SB: It’s definitely had a huge positive, though it’s a weird little engine. It’s really serving well, without it a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily know about shows and people discovering me through Instagram, so i really cannot knock it. It has negative sides about it, it’s another tool for people to self-brand and i think today a lot of people are self-branding themselves, and set up to be I guess the ‘15 minutes of fame’ but we are all able to project ourselves onto everyone else and not on the world.

It’s a weird environment and I don’t know if that is a positive or negative either. It’s been good for me, it seems to be certain rules you can’t put up–like you can’t put up bad photos, or you get worried if you don’t get that many likes or if you do get likes. I always drunk Instagram, sometimes I have to delete Instagram before I go out, I’ll post things that I want to photograph or that I am inspired by and it can affect your ‘brand’.


 

S: Recently, you’ve got a lot of attention for your works that reframe conventional covers from contemporary fashion and culture publications by interpreting cover models into geometric polymer figures. In many ways it creates a dynamic interaction between your work and the publication–between abstraction and realism, between photography and paint, and so forth–but what does it mean to deface the cover figures and to replace them with your own creations?

SB: I started that off just before Christmas last year because I have always wanted to collaborate with a fashion photographer to sort of then paint over the top of their photos, because I guess a lot of the figures that I get inspired by are maybe, even something from Helmut Newton or those kind of scenes. Maybe I can paint upon, I didn’t really get around to contacting anyone in regards to that but than i thought fashion magazine covers, they might be exactly that base that I want and can start off with.

So I just started buying them, I started doing the covers because of it’s personality, plus it was a really quick thing to do. I wanted to change it up and have something that if i didn't’ feel like spending three days painting something, it was something that I could do within 40 minutes.  

We wrap the interview up with Stephen showing me around the studio, the natural light and use of space in the studio exudes creative ambiance. We exchange words of weekend plans and overseas travel ~ as Stephen talks about his upcoming New York trip.

Through his line work and bold choice of colour palate, Stephen Baker captures an audience's attention through his simplistic measures. With large admiration throughout the art community of Melbourne, he takes you on a story that leads you on a whirlwind of imagination and curiosity. He breaks down the barriers of the conventional art and design creative and corporates them both together in a seemingly effortless manner.



For more of Stephen Baker's work, check out his website, or Instagram 

- Words by Shauna Sieger