Charming Baker is one of the most well-known and influential British artists working today. He has had solo exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic in a career that has, thus far, been incredibly varied - the only constant being critical praise and public admiration.
Born in Hampshire in 1964, Baker spent many of his formative years travelling the world with his father, a Commando in the British Army. At the age of twelve his family settled, choosing the quaint medieval town of Ripon, North Yorkshire as their permanent base. Baker left school four years later at the age of sixteen and worked various manual jobs, but the mundane nature of this work failed to secure the interest of the young artist, and he returned to college in 1985. This move was subsequently rewarded with an offer to study at the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s, where he would later return as a lecturer.
After graduating, Baker began to forge a path in commercial graphic design, working for both the BBC and Daily Telegraph. Concurrently, he was creating experimental oil paintings which he would stash under his bed, occasionally selling one to family or friends. This routine prevailed for some time until, in 2006, an arts journalist enquired about one of Baker’s paintings that hung on a friend’s wall, they then purchased four works and convinced Baker to take part in an exhibition on Brick Lane in East London. Baker’s career then began to progress: he has since exhibited with the Fine Art Society and collaborated with Sir Paul Smith to make a sculpture entitled ‘Triumph in the Face of Absurdity’, which was displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He has been Guest Editor for the Big Issue’s Art Special and continues to be committed to creating work to raise money for charity (not least his wonderful submission to Unit London’s charity exhibition Drawn Together). Baker currently occupies one of the presenter roles on Sky Arts’ ‘The Art Show’.
Although Baker has produced a variety of sculptural work over the years, using a range of materials and subject matter, it is painting that is his first love - and it is in this medium that his interest in narrative and art historical tradition really shines through. His work tends to explore the big ideas. Conceptually, it is ‘macro-art’, concerned with the highest points in the canopy of human emotion and experience: love, life, death, fear, anxiety, joy and happiness. As the artist says himself “I’m dealing with the big themes of life that you can’t date,” “I like the medium of paint but what I’m interested in is the idea of reality and unreality, the human condition, death.”. Although Baker’s preoccupation with mortality and the transience of personal experience could stray into morbidity, the artist’s wry wit and rather British self-deprecation anchor the works on the threshold of vitality and something more poignant. Like day into night; life into death, Baker’s work exists in the twilight hour between.
A love of painting allows Baker’s work to transition effectively into the world of editions. His oeuvre, focusing as it does on unanimous experiences, has an element of emotional ubiquity that lends itself well to reproduction. Unit Drops and Jealous London are the institutions that have perhaps been most involved in Baker’s move to print-making, and look to set to continue in this vein for some time.
Baker is renowned for purposefully damaging his work by drilling, cutting and (occasionally) shooting it with a shotgun. These methods bring our preconceptions of the sanctity of art into disrepute and add some emotional flavour to the work. Examining the very nature of art-making and its perceived preciousness, Baker's intentional erasure and damaged elements bring into question the emotional relationship we hold with art, and society’s assumptions about beauty and perfection. “Nothing is only ever one thing. I don’t see why I shouldn’t bend or break an image to alter its original meaning, if only at least to entertain. Hopefully the work isn’t without a sense of humour.”
Alongside the dark humour that permeates the work is an unavoidable debt of respect to the classics, if Baker were an author he would be comprehensively well read, as a painter he is exceedingly aware of the notion of artistic lineage. He views himself as a traditionalist - his greatest influences being the scientific, equine drawings of George Stubbs, or the bucolic, Romantic landscapes of Constable. Although he has traditionally produced works in oil with an emphasis on narrative, his more recent creations have included sculptural pieces which explore transience and the naive innocence of childhood. In short, Baker is never doing or thinking about one set thing, his creative output is a rounded, considered ‘body’, in the truest sense of the word. Indeed, Edward Lucie-Smith has described Baker’s paintings as having, “something more, a kind of romantic melancholy that is very British. And sometimes the melancholy turns out to have sharp claws. The pictures make you sit up and examine your conscience.”
Baker’s impressive CV includes shows at the Truman Brewery in 2007 and the Redchurch Street Gallery in 2009, which were followed by a show in New York in 2010. In 2011, his London show at the Mercer Street Studios cemented his place as one of the rising stars in the world of Contemporary Art. His 2013 LA exhibition entitled 'Lie Down I Think I Love You' announced his relationship with the infamous PMM Art Projects, and caused a mass of media interest across America. Baker's most recent exhibition titled, “Easy Come, Easy Go” at The Vinyl Factory in Soho showcased the artist’s tongue-in-cheek exploration of mortality with a large number of his bronze sculptures, paintings and prints. He currently lives and works in London.