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Interview with Dan Baldwin

18 March 2015

The Mute Witness-Dan Baldwin-sculpture

Painter and ceramist Dan Baldwin has for a long time been a very good friend of the gallery. It’s been incredible watching Dan’s career progress while his artwork has evolved over the years. We caught up with Dan to find out a bit more about the 3D side of his practice, while we currently have some of his stunning pots and new bronzes in the gallery for ‘Three Dimensions’, our group exhibition. Read on for a bit of insight into the life and times of one of our most celebrated artists… 

Your early works incorporate found objects into your paintings. Would you say this informed your later 3D and ceramic pieces?

 Definitely. I started making art with found objects back in 1990, the same year I discovered Joseph Cornell, then the POP artists and the likes of Rauschenberg and Peter Blake. I just made art with found objects using what I had in the attic: wood, books, and things I had collected from car boot fairs etc. That was the reason I was in the pound shop in 2004, I’d been buying bits for my art, plastic dogs, flower, knives and they had pots there. To begin with I just had a few pots,which sat in my studio. I usually play around with things and the concept will arise afterwards, at the time I had no idea Keith Haring had painted on pots with ink in the 80s. He did these beautiful terracotta urns, I just doodled on the pots and it grew and grew. The early pots I did were trying to become a painting, that was the mission, to create something as intricate as my paintings but on another surface, a new medium.

 

It’s a great story how it all began quite innocently with those pound shop pots. Did you ever forsee your work getting to the stage it is now or was it a more natural progression? 

It was totally natural but I always hoped to paint a 5ft pot one day like a canvas. I had an emotional moment the other night when I stood in front of this 5ft pot with intricate cast objects and it dawned on me how far we have come.

It was a zine I made in 1996 called ‘EVIL N SICK N NEED HELP’ that inspired my early pots. I worked in a newsagents and a video-shop for years, I was sat drawing freaks and fucked up shit all day, the books were my way of compiling them, I made 8 volumes of drawings. It was a very separate thing to my paintings, just little books full of doodles. The early pots in the Painting Pottery Cafe were ‘EVIL N SICK’ pots, nothing to do with my paintings, really fucked up and raw. I liked the discipline of sitting in there with my ipodon,it was a nice break from the chaos of my studio. A relationship I’d been in had just ended, so it was quite therapeutic painting in there on those pots, drinking coffee, letting it all out!

 

Some days I would paint 3 pots or an entire dinner set, and then they’d glaze them. That went on a year or so, until I decided that I didn’t want to sit there anymore, so I took them back to my studio and properly pushed them like a painting.They became more than a doodle with colour and clean elements. The restless nature in me is never content, so I learnt quickly, they all sold, every pot. I was getting to a brick wall, I needed scale to advance them and to get away from a moulded 30 cm shape but not many potters want to make pots for other artists. I just got to a place where I was not able to progress when I met Roberto Gagliano. He is the only reason I have been able to progress this far with my pots.I’m very protective of our relationship, and I must mention he was going to give up potterywhen we met. He was struggling to survive. Luck brought us together really, I’m challenging him all the time, “Can we do this, can we do that…?”, he has the skill to make it happen.

A pot may cost me £1/2k in production costs alone! That’s major progression from £30 a pot to this. In the same way I can now buy professional canvas and rare objects or cast a sculpture in bronze it’s a natural development, total freedom to express whatever it is I want to do. I invest it all back into my art.

 

As a means of expressing your thoughts and ideas how does ceramics and 3D differ to paint on canvas? Does it force you to think differently?

I realised I’ve been trying to make my pots like a canvas, but actually a decorative object is totally different to a painting. I change them so much. Some are like a canvas with aggressive splashes of colour and dribbles, while others are more symmetrical and classically decorative.

In terms of the paint on pots it dries instantly. It’s chalky and powdery, I use a thin needle bottle pot nozzle to paint and it blocks up constantly so I have to unblock the head with a pin every 30 seconds. You can’t get too thick as the glaze won’t sit on it well but I do treat them like a canvas, with very loose brush marks. I rub them back with the brush and water and sand them like a canvas. I also hack into them when they are wet and cut them, throw paint at them, generally bruise them up a bit! It’s totally different, but equally rewarding. I attack canvas in a similar way; it’s always a contrast between loose and tight, control and movement.

 The effect of a painting on ceramic can be amazing, totally different to a canvas. Equally the effects I achieve on canvas is also exciting.I enjoy the two sides of my output equally; they are separate sides to me, but link in theme.

 

What new ceramics have you been working on recently? Does working in 3D require more direct planning?

We just finished two pots, which are almost 5ft tall with an actual cast alligator skull, in clay on the top, panthers, humming birds, bears and a large eagle.It’s pretty insane. I can’t believe I’m painting on 5ft pots, with snakes and flowers and bears, it’s got to a really crazy level.It’s a never-ending progression, some are symmetrical, more graphic, others are painterly, some are totally smooth, and some are loaded with 3D elements. I’m now designing them specifically around their 3Dobjects, and can plan them more. I used to just apply what I felt like there and then, now we have so many objects, I have to plan them in advance and pre design them. That’s changed the work a lot.

 

Do you work on 3D pieces and paintings simultaneously?

Yes and no. My studio is too small, so I’m in the process of relocating to a bigger one sometime this year, which is a big headache but has to happen.
I currently have pots waiting to begin, and paintings I’m into, my frustrations are that while I am excited about my new paintings I have to stop and get into pots.

 

Roberto and I made a hand made tile painting last year. It was red clay terracotta tiles with 3D cast guns and objects, so it was the natural middle area between a painting on canvas and a pot. That’s another area I want to focus on, but I have to wait until the new studio allows it, and the right show. I think I just love new mediums, like seeing my art printed onto fabric as a dress, or a scarf. This possibly comes back to the fact I studied communication media for 5 years, not fine art.

 

Finally what does this year hold in store for Dan Baldwin…?

A new collection. The first London solo show in 2 years, new paintings, bronzes and pots. A big charity event with the Teenage Cancer Trust, new print releases in April at the RA.A print show in Jersey and one in Salcombe. The Groucho Club 30th anniversary book is released, which I’m thrilled to be in. I have a 7-page feature coming out in Tirade magazine. Coriander Print Studios have a big event and re-launch of their new studios. There has also been a big change in my art since the NYC show. There’s a lot going on and it feels like a busy time, which I’m excited about.