Garin Baker was raised in a home of creative parents…his father was a writer, director and filmmaker, and his mother was a creator of knit ware for McCall’s magazine. Garin remembers visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mom, and strolling through Central Park in the 60s and 70s when it was filled with antiwar demonstrators and a colorful array of people, music, and cultures. Those powerful influences remain to this day and inform his work.
In high school he was accepted into one of NYC’s specialized public high schools with a focus on art. Max Ginsburg and Irwin Greenberg were among his instructors. His studies continued at the Art Students League under Gustav Rehberger, Harvey Dinnerstein, David Leffel, Bert Silverman and Ted Seth Jacobs. Now, as an instructor at the League himself, he follows in their footsteps.
In this second part of an extensive interview I had with Garin, he discusses another side of his extensively creative life…mural painting. I’m honored he agreed to let me interview him. He has a lot to offer. In a future blog post he will discuss being a professional. If you missed Part 1 of this interview series…”Garin Baker on figurative painting”…you may access it HERE. You won’t want to miss any of this three part interview. (Click images to enlarge)
Your work and artistic life is multi-faceted; you’re not only a very fine artist, creating studio and plein air works, but you also create very large murals, and are an instructor at the Art Students League in New York. Please tell us how the mural business and teaching at the Art Students League came about. My illustration career was incredibly busy and I had two children in school at the time. The elementary school which they were attending was creating a science museum/lab. At a meeting of interested parents, teachers and administrators, discussing fund raising for the project, I spoke up and offered to paint a mural of the moon’s surface with the globe of the earth in deep space beyond. Additionally, another parent had an idea to use bungie cords to enable students to feel as though they were weightless as they “walked” on the moon’s surface in front of the mural. It was great fun working collaboratively, after years of being isolated in my studio with deadlines. That’s when I fell in love with creating large scale works that changed environments and impacted the way people felt as they interacted within these environments. The opportunity to create art outside commercial galleries and museums, while bringing art into the daily lives of ordinary people, was an extraordinary experience. That’s what spawned my now 18-year career in public art. Along the way, I’ve created countless projects all over the United States and abroad, and am honored to have received the Governor’s Commendation for the Los Angeles County Fire Department mural, and a city-block-long mural in Washington, DC recognizing all those who labored while creating the Lincoln Memorial.
Teaching at the world famous Art Students League, with an impressive lineage of instructors and artists throughout history, has been the privilege of my career. So many famous and historically notable artists have graced its studios since 1875. The founding egalitarian spirit and respect among a diversity of art disciplines and approaches, is as alive today as it ever was. Several years ago I was invited to teach a series of figure painting workshops. As the story goes, in order to get on the faculty at the League one needed to hire a hit man to take out a few of those that opposed you, but I was fortunate to have several Board Members attend the workshops, and a year or so later I was invited to join the faculty. My first days teaching there were completely surreal. As a young artist in my early twenties I took classes in the famous “Studio 7”…the same studio in which Robert Henri, William Merit Chase, George Bellows, Norman Rockwell, Jackson Pollock, George Bridgman, etc. either taught or attended as students. So, needless to say, it was truly a powerful and intimidating feeling. I’ve been teaching there for almost 7 years now and am truly grateful to report my class is consistently filled with students and those waiting to get in.
Your mural work is absolutely amazing; how large is your mural business and how are jobs obtained? Thank you, and honestly, it’s basically a one-man operation most of the time. Public Art, and especially the mural business…the kind of traditionally hand-painted murals that I do in the lineage of Edward Mucha, Frank Brangwyn and Dean Cornwall, is a relatively solitary endeavor. When the actual execution and installation come about after many, many months of travel, presentations, approvals, budgets and contracts, then and only then do I assemble a team of apprentices to help me work on the painting and installation of the mural; this totally depends on the size and budget of each project. Every project is distinctly unique, since every site and client differs, and I’ve never worked on two projects of the same size and budget. The range has been quite remarkable. I’ve worked on everything from 10-15 foot wide murals, commissioned by private entities, to municipal construction projects that take up the entire side of a 7-story building – a city block long. It’s not uncommon to work on some of these project for a year or more. From the initial Request for Qualification (RFQ) to the final install, it can take 2-3 years until final completion. I’ve also also worked on community driven projects that can take even more time, since fundraising can add many months and sometimes years to a project.
Besides the obvious, how does mural work differ from your easel painting? Quite a bit actually. I suppose the most obvious is scale but with regards to design and composition it’s an entirely different animal. Taking lessons from the great muralist and renaissance frescos paintings of the past, the conceptual importance of space and how the viewer actually enjoys the work is paramount. Details and surface qualities are sacrificed in order for the viewer to be captivated and invited from a distance to approach and become enveloped into the vision I’m attempting to convey. My pictorial sensibilities gravitate to the amazing murals of Frank Brangwyn, and although I am captivated by his genius and artistry I’m not particularly interested in recreating stylistically what he had so marvelously created. I do attempt to bring the sense of design and composition he demonstrated as well as sacrificing of illusionary depth that I try and achieve in my easel paintings. All this is combined with my interest in creating murals that are a combination of chewing gum for the eyes and a balanced composition…a theatrical cornucopia of elements for the viewer to travel and rest as the story of the mural unfolds. In the end, what I strive for in my public art murals is that all important “Wow” factor…subliminally nourishing them with a narrative and thoughts of what they have newly discovered.
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