In the studio with British artist Lily Alice Baker, whose paintings are based in an intuitive gestural style anchored to the human figure. We met with Lily to tell us more about growing up in Kent, their greatest influences, and unexpected sources of inspiration.
When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
It took me a while to actually use the word ‘artist’ when referring to myself. Having to constantly work a hospitality job as well as painting, I found myself calling myself a barista more than an artist. However, now I am in my second year after graduating, I feel more secure in seeing myself as an artist, starting to shake off the imposter syndrome!
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I was born in Northumberland, and then moved down to Kent, when I was 3 years old. I’ve been brought up by my mum, who is the kindest, most inspiring woman there is. She has enabled me to pursue painting as a career and I am forever grateful. Addiction has always haunted our family, I think that has had a massive affect on my work, I use my paintings to explore humanness exaggerated by alcohol, the positives and the negatives.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? Was there a pivotal moment when you felt you were on the right track?
I went to a school that put a lot of emphasis on academia, so it was when my amazing teacher Mr Williams pushed me to think of art at the same level we were expected to think of sciences, that made me see the depth of what art can be and do. When someone is that passionate about their subject, as a teacher, it ignites the same passion in their students.
I then went to travelling around the world for 6 months after leaving school, and came back absolutely lost and unsure what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to enrol in an Art Foundation course, partly to feel like I had something stable to turn up to everyday, I still had in my mind that I wanted to do a Law degree, like my mum, but this foundation made me fall in love with making and creating, pushing boundaries of what I thought art was, and what it could be. This freedom in thinking was a real awakening, something that my fairly rigid education had not given me thus far. I knew at that point I did not want to sit in an office, I wanted to be surrounded by paint, charcoal and mess.
What’s the message of your work? (themes/narratives/purpose) Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic?
My work is based in an intuitive gestural style anchored to the human figure, with clear inspiration drawn from the works of the original Abstract Expressionist movement.
The overarching theme of my work is humanness, interaction, memory, nostalgia, relationships, and sex. Only recently have I realised it has always been a search for my own identity, a sort of longing to find somewhere to fit in and to truly understand why I feel what I feel.
The imagery I draw from for my art is a twisted, moving body, an embodiment of my memories of people I have interacted with, who continue to shape who I am.
I have always been drawn to notions of the romantic, the beauty that love between people brings, the hot flush you get from being seen and heard by someone you love, but also in these beautiful images created with bold, enticing colours, there’s a layer sitting behind of anxiety, melancholy or anger- much like humans themselves.
Who/what are your greatest influences?
Cecily Brown remains one of my favourite painters, she introduced me to painting a feeling of humanness. That to capture on of the many “energies” of a person is to first feel what that feels like, and these energies can be more than what is just seen, it’s explosive and unapologetic.
Joan Mitchell work has been a major influence, she is a force, being able to gain notoriety in the AbEx movement just shows the self-surety she had.
As with Brown, Mitchell’s use of colour, gesture and movement, bringing her own body as a woman into a different conversation. Her body rejecting standardised norms of how the female body should function.
Nicole Eisenman’s exploration of the surrealist human situation. Her composition of slightly odd characters has shown me how much information one painted figure can express about the human condition (without necessarily looking human).
An unexpected source of inspiration?
I have recently started tattooing. The inspiring validation of someone believing in your drawing enough to get it permanently on their skin is a really beautiful and intimate thing.
What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?
I would love everyone to find a space in my work, to feel themselves in their own body, and hopefully understand that my work is trying t question my own sense of self. Aided by the large scale and gestural style of my paintings, I would love people to respond to the paintings viscerally, that again helps someone reflect the subject matter onto themselves.
I think that is the beauty of abstraction. There is no finite meaning to what I paint, abstraction breaks down the human need to categorise, which is really important to me, so everyone can find a part of their identity in this language of painting.
What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you experiment?
Since moving to London, and doing a BA at Goldsmiths, meeting people from so many places and all have a passion for art. It also was the first time I had encountered real critique, which can be hard to take, but eventually helps evolve your work.
Experimentation is vital to my practice, be it colour, a type of gesture, figuring out shapes and composition. Experimentation also aligns well with humanness, it’s never perfect but interacting with people is a form of social experimentation, which I want to demonstrate in my work.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
Music, charcoal sketches in front of me and CLEAN brushes.
Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your works?
Offline, Running Through My Mind, 2022
This piece was created as an attempt to occupy the body of a loved one that I would FaceTime often during the COVID-19 outbreak, aiming to understand how they felt, and how that made me feel. The pandemic isolated many people, especially those that were already suffering from mental illness. These people found themselves in a very dark hole. The painting expresses that feeling of complete emptiness and isolation, whilst also very much being about hope, the light representing an end to the loneliness.
Something in the future you hope to explore?
More countries, textiles, more food, film, photography, printing.
Describe your work in three words:
Abstract, Romantic and Figurative
What do you listen to while you work? Is music important to your art?
It is very important, it varies form Mazzy Star to Kendrick Lamar, I like everything.
What is your favorite read?
Love in the Time of Cholera- Gabriel García Márquez
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received (any quotes or mantras you particularly connect with)?
I reread ‘I Choose Painting’ by Milly Thompson a lot.
What makes you laugh 🙂
What makes you nervous?
The Cost of Living Crisis
Is there anything you wish you were asked more often?
Could I buy a painting?
Is there anything you’ve recently tried for the first time?
I don’t think so.. creature of habit..
Is there anything you’ve been hesitant to try in the past but you’d like to this year?
Working on a public mural
Do you have any superstitions?
Stepping on a third drain
Would you rather know what the future holds or be surprised?
What palace in your everyday environment do you go to for inspiration?
What are some things you’re most passionate about outside of your practice?
Dancing, Music, Cooking
What is your relationship with social media?
Suspicious but grateful