Interview with an Artist: Beatrix Baker

Currently based in the Lake District, Beatrix is an artist and sculptor whose twisting wooden structures aim to explore the emotive power of the boat form. You can find more of her work here and at the Open West exhibition at the Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham.

Beatrix Baker 1

Photo credit: BeatrixBaker

Boats are a recurring theme in your work; what drew you to that particular form?

Studying in Falmouth I was surrounded by boats and at first I was just attracted to the powerful shape and didn’t care about its purpose. Its contours provided bold, round, almost pregnant shapes and for a few months I was happy to explore the form on these terms. Then, when it came time for me to write my dissertation I began to think deeply about the shape and why it attracted me. Many different strands began to appear and it became clear that this would be a very ambitious project, surpassing the scale of a dissertation.

A boat can be seen as a sanctuary and in lots of ways it’s a very comforting form; the ceiling of many churches reflects a boat and, with its rounded shape and protective purpose, it can be likened to a womb. On the other hand a boat is a vehicle, representing travel and freedom. The more I looked the more metaphors began to emerge; a ship takes on different meanings on land as opposed to water and I found the idea of the boat out of water especially exciting. By taking an object out of its natural habitat it is easier to explore its inherent strangeness.

Beatrix Baker 2

Photo credit: BeatrixBaker

Which artists inspire you? Do you have any artistic idols or role models?

I really admire the work of the jeweller Lina Peterson, especially in her use of unusual materials. Her work combines colour and texture in a very interesting way and I enjoy the playful aspect of her designs. Charlie Whinney, the artist I’m currently working with, also inspires me. His practice of steam bending wood has been influential to my work and I respect his ability to experiment with the technique. I also like the flexibility with which he moves between projects, dramatically varying the object or the scale he is working on. For example, we are currently constructing a classroom from fibreglass and wood.

When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in art?

I’m not sure but I think I’ve always hoped to. Studying contemporary crafts at university really opened up opportunities for me. I came to believe that making things is a valuable way to spend your time and was something I wanted to do. In order to pursue this it was necessary for making things to become my career so I that I wouldn’t be distracted by another job.

Beatrix Baker 3 Beatrix Baker 4

You’ve been involved in some big projects lately, helping in the design of window displays for Harvey Nichols and designing a bridge with other young artists; what has been the most rewarding experience of your career so far?

Recently I was asked to design a boat structure of the Open West exhibition at the Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham. I was working on a tight time scale and it was an ambitious design but after many setbacks I felt proud to have managed to pull it off! I had hired a van to drive my piece down; however, I realised the morning of the show I was not legally allowed to drive it! I feared I had fallen at the final hurdle but luckily my housemate gallantly agreed to drive me the 6 hours there and back to deliver it!

What projects are you working on at the moment? and where would you like to see your work going in the future?

My most recent project was the Cheltenham boat structure, but I have also been experimenting with oak. When the wood is painted with steel solution it reacts to turn black and I’m interested to explore further how this effect can be used. I have been using the steam-bending technique to create hand mirrors, and I hope to begin experimenting creating these using a black tactile wood. In the future I would ideally like my work to have two sides – a small range of products to be sold in boutique shops as well as more ambitious, large scale sculptures for galleries or public spaces.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring artists or makers?

Hmm, that’s a tricky one. My main advice would be to create things you like. Go with your instincts and don’t be put off or give up because of the hurdles that stand in the way of exploring and creating things you love.

Sarah Scott

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