THE REALIST | ONE17 NOTES MAGAZINE | AUTUMN/WINTER 2018 | ISSUE 9
Artwork courtesy of © Darren Baker
Flamenco © Darren Baker
Regardless of your undoubted talent, you seem to epitomise the old saying that the harder you work, the luckier you get. Do you feel you’ve had to struggle for your success or that you’ve led a charmed life so far?
Most overnight successes are years in the making. I have had some helpful breaks but ultimately I’ve worked very hard to develop the talent I have over a very long period. That quotation about inspiration and perspiration certainly applies in my case. Work hard and the rewards will come.
Would it be fair to say that your work ethic comes from your grandmother?
Oh yes. She was a traditional Yorkshire matriarch who instilled the work ethic into me from a young age. She taught me that you need determination, a steely nerve and ambition if you wanted to make something of yourself.
It would seem that drawing and painting are part of your DNA; does all your research and study come easily on the back of natural talent?
I wouldn’t say that! It’s true that I seem to have a natural ability to draw and paint but that’s not enough on its own. College and twenty years as a professional artist have taught me you need to mix talent with good old-fashioned hard graft.
You seem to have understood the need to promote yourself and put yourself in front of the right people from an early age; are you naturally outgoing or did you have to overcome shyness to do that?
At school I was painfully shy. But the older I got and the further into my career I advanced it became obvious that meeting and greeting was essential. Like anything else in life I decided that if I was going to do it, I might as well be good at it! It’s no different from most skills – you may never be Olympic standard but work at it and you can become as proficient as you need.
Sport and royalty feature strongly in your story and in some cases at the same time. Have you found that one contact has lead to another in these fields once you made the initial breakthrough?
Word of mouth is the best recommendation. Once I’ve made one contact that person tends to act as an ambassador for me and I’ll find myself perhaps months later getting a call from a complete stranger who’s approached me because of that first contact. It’s a snowball effect – start small and things naturally grow and gather pace.
Given the exalted company you keep did you ever feel that your background affected your opportunities?
I think not attending a London art college was a drawback. There is definitely a London scene and a gallery industry where I’m sure it helps to have attended the RCA or Central St Martins for example.
Then again if your work is good enough and you don’t let yourself be put off (persistence again) you can break through. Nobody’s going to pass on quality work because of how an artist speaks.
Self portrait © Darren Baker
Life 1 © Darren Baker
Classical Horse © Darren Baker
It sounds straightforward and there is a certain rhythm to how I work but each picture has its own demands and foibles – the path of fine art never seems to run entirely smooth.
Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen © Darren Baker
Jonny Wilkinson CBE © Darren Baker
Delicate Silk © Darren Baker
You’ve said that there was a certain resistance in college days to your highly realistic style; did you ever find that difficult?
I would have to say I experienced some insecurity at first. Teaching concentrated on conceptual art which was not my thing at all but as I got to know some of the tutors rather better they were very supportive.
In fact I remember a drawing tutor saying to me near the end of my course “You should go and paint the Queen”. That set a thought in my head and fifteen years later that is precisely what I did.
Does your working style set you apart from fellow artists or do you have a lot of friends who are also artists?
Being a studio artist can be quite a solitary occupation but recently I’ve been doing more dealing and that has brought me into contact with a whole new group of artists. I have to say that bouncing ideas off other artists is really helpful and keeping in touch is a good counterpoint to all those days working alone.
How do you feel about the fine art industry today?
As in any business there are agents and managers out there who act in their own interests ahead of yours. An artist first starting out really needs to take care about who he or she gets involved with.
On the other hand I think the art world today generally is in a pretty good position. There are wealthy patrons and collectors in abundance and a growing general interest in fine art that some years ago was perhaps much more restricted.
You seem to work in a variety of media, but do you have a favourite?
No hesitation: charcoal. I have always preferred drawing to painting and charcoal is a dry medium, straightforward and you can work quickly without worrying that you might damage the piece.
What determines which medium you will use for a piece of work?
That’s quite a tricky one really. Of course it depends on the subject but if I’m honest it tends to be determined by the mood I’m in and the emotional response I have to the subject.
Some commissions of course specify the medium and I’m not one to flounce off if it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it’s always worth a discussion.
Can you tell us a bit about your working method?
Certainly. It starts with gathering the reference material – sketches, photographs etc and then I start the outline of the picture. After this I build up the underpainting then consider the tones and shadows before finally working in the detail. It sounds straightforward and there is a certain rhythm to how I work but each picture has its own demands and foibles – the path of fine art never seems to run entirely smooth.
Which other artists’ work do you admire and why?
How long have you got? The Renaissance produced some amazing artists who have been a huge influence on me: Leonardo, Rembrandt, Vermeer for example. Their technical abilities were staggering quite apart from the emotional content of their work.
Coming forward I also find myself drawn to the Pre-Raphaelites – I even tried working in stained glass when I lived in the Cotswolds but it’s not the medium for me!
And coming bang up to today I’m a great admirer of the American artist Doug Hoffman. He works in a variety of media and features the human body a lot – ballet scenes and nudes in particular. Interestingly he also quotes Vermeer as a major influence.
Does your life involve much travel nowadays or do you resist being away from home?
I’d much rather be at home but last year for example I had to travel to Thailand and Africa for commissions. Travel is inevitable I’m afraid.
Are your Yorkshire roots important to you and do you think they influenced your development?
Definitely. I’m 100% Yorkshire and the values I learned in childhood are still with me. I’ve never lost my accent and I believe in loyalty.
Given the importance sport has played in your career, do you now or have you previously played much sport yourself?
My Dad was football mad when I was growing up so inevitably I played a bit when I was young. I soon realised I had two left feet and that I got more fun and enjoyment from my art.
If we played Desert Island Artworks, which of your eight would you rescue from the waves and why?
Leonardo’s “Virgin of the Rocks” that hangs in the National Gallery. It’s one of two versions that Leonardo painted – the earlier version is in the Louvre – and it was one of the first paintings to make an impression on me when I begin visiting London galleries.
It’s a complex composition and resulted in part from an intense study of the natural world by the artist. The two works were quite revolutionary for the time and fascinated me from first viewing.
On the face of it, you seem to have it all: a great body of work, an enviable address book, good standing in your profession and a happy home; are there any downsides to what you do? In other words is it necessary to suffer for art?
I wouldn’t say necessary so much as inevitable. I aim for pinpoint perfection and that doesn’t just happen. There are low periods when the work is not going well and you’re not sure why. I suppose I just accept that there’s no gain without pain.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Believe in what you do and never lose heart or confidence.