International Isolation Interview with Joe Henry Baker
Joe Henry Baker is a British painter based in New York. We interviewed Joe in June and asked him to share with us his studio practice and what life is like as an emerging artist in New York City.
Photos by Miles Jay
SEAM: When did you start making art and how did it come about?
JHB: I’ve been making art all my life, but my abstract work started around 2017. I was working as a graphic designer in New York and was missing the tactile side of my creativity. After a well deserved trip to Mexico, I came back to the city with the promise to myself that I would make things with my hands again. I found a cheap shared studio in a Chinatown basement, and it went from there.
SEAM: Do you have a daily routine in the studio?
JHB: More recently I’ve started each day when I arrive with a mediation, otherwise I try and do everything at once and my energy is a bit frantic. I always make an effort to flick through my books. And take a moment to lie on the floor at some point - for some reason this always reminds me to not take myself too seriously and to smile - I’m doing what I love. Oh, and a cup of tea.
SEAM: How do you get into the creative process and where does the process begin for you?
JHB: I’m always driven to make something - be it a painting or a piece of furniture - it’s more about recognising when to take a break and step back, that is the real challenge for me. The process really begins with an internal question - what are you looking to get out of this session? Are you happy? Sad? Scatter brained? How will this play out? How can you harness and be true to that energy?
SEAM: Do you like to plan out your ideas on paper or go straight to canvas?
JHB: I work very instinctually, and like to actualise ideas quickly. I sometimes work on smaller reference pieces before starting on a large scale, but most of the time I dive in head first. If I approach something with too much of a plan, the work becomes very static, evident in the gestures. I know I’m making a good piece when my clothes are trashed at the end.
SEAM: You’re most recent series of work are the inversion paintings, can you talk about how these are made?
JHB: I’ve been working predominately in watercolours, and was questioning how acrylics may incorporate themselves - watercolours being so malleable and volatile, acrylics so definite. With a background in carpentry and design, I encourage myself to look at the canvas as an object rather than a flat surface, which in turn led me to see how the heavy duck canvas I stretch with reacted to pressure and water from the back side. The result is two pieces of artwork - my painting and a ghost, the ghost containing a number of subtleties and variables that I find interesting.
SEAM: Your work constantly explores the possibilities and limitations of paint, have you worked in any other materials or would be interested to?
JHB: I wish I didn’t have to eat or sleep. There are so many materials I’d like to explore. I recently made a large painting using insulation board, which is a series I’m keen to develop. I love building small pieces of furniture for my house in between/during painting. Nothing brings me more joy than walking down an unknown aisle at the hardware store and finding new things to play with. I’d love for the frames I build to play more of a part in the final artwork, rather than just sitting behind the canvas.
SEAM: Do you find living in New York has had a particular influence on your work? How would you rate it as a city to live in as an emerging artist?
JHB: The influence of the city has mainly been the drive to survive, to come into the studio everyday and to keep moving forward. It’s not exactly the cheapest or easiest place to live, therefore there’s no time to dawdle. I’m so inspired by my peer group - everyone is reaching or at the top of their game, and we all have each other’s backs. I am eternally grateful for all the support from both friends and strangers this year so far. As an emerging artist, there is nothing more electric than finding your place in a city like this and finding your voice.
SEAM: What is your favourite gallery or exhibition space in New York?
SEAM: Which artists in particular currently inspire you?
SEAM: What’s coming up for you next?
JHB: In September I have been invited to take over the Saturday’s soho store here in New York, where I’ll be showing a new body of work, alongside film, photography, clothing, and maybe even some cheeky surfboards. The team there have been incredibly kind and generous and I’m excited to build out a really special exhibit there. That month I’ll also be part of a group show at the Novosibirsk Art Museum Triennale in Russia, where I’ll be displaying some smaller works on paper along the theme of solitude in landscape. Over the summer I will be working more on location, and I’m hoping I can travel locally and abroad and bring my practice with me.
Get in touch to view Joe Henry Baker's full price list of available work.