Artist Interview: Deborah Bakos

I'd like to introduce Parker Studios Vancouver based Visual artist Deborah Bakos. Deb Bakos and I met via Artists in Our Midst and we got to know each other better during their annual Roundhouse show in Yaletown, 2011 in which she was curator. Deb can you tell us how you first got involved with AIOM? How did you evolve from simply painting and exhibiting your work to curating shows?

I think the way Art is presented is almost as important as the Art itself. I am a “big picture” person, bit I am a bit excessive about details as well. Artists in our Midst’s hands-on mandate provided me the opportunity to put my visions and organizational skills to work. I have been involved in the curatorial component of this artists’ collective since I joined them 4 years ago and I have served on their working Board of Directors for 2 years. It has been my good fortune to have met, worked with and admired many, many local artists because of this.

Deb, I notice you call your studio "ripe studio" can you tell us about this name and the meaning behind it please…

At the “ripe”, not-yet-rotten age of 40, I resigned from my 12 year career as a high school Humanities teacher and enrolled at Emily Carr University. My first commission in 2006 was a large painting of drippy, cherry cheesecake.

Though I rarely paint representational images like this now, the whole Art as the “fruit” of my imagination idea still works for me.

Looking at your portfolio online I can see that you do work in a number of styles - still life, abstracts, landscape, etc. Is there one particular style that you enjoy most? Why?

Most of my work falls between the boundaries of representation and abstraction. Abstraction is the most challenging for me and for this reason I gravitate towards it. I am very interested in color theory and the language of brushstrokes. Abstract painting allows me to work larger and to focus on the emotional connections we have with essential elements like form, color and movement

Deb, looking at your most recent works, I see a lot of textures and perhaps the use of a palette knife. Would you share with us about your painting process?

This past year, I worked almost exclusively with palette knives to free myself from the careful “fixing” that can happen with small brushes. I think my newer work is larger, looser and more expressive because of the tools I use. My process begins with a solid color on my canvas or panel, followed by thick layers of paint and glazes used to carve out forms. I use a limited palette and focus on tonal contrast to create drama.

Can you tell us how your passion for painting began?

I have always had a pencil in hand to document my world, but I started painting full time when I moved to Istanbul, Turkey in 2006. I worked in studio and exhibited with local and international artists for over 2 years. I had a little home studio with a marble patio and a magnificently ancient culture to inspire me. By the time I returned to Vancouver in 2009, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

I understand you have worked as a teacher and raised -- still raising!--- two kids, obviously you lead a very busy life...How do you make time for your art when it's never urgent nor a priority to take time for our creativity?

It’s always a balancing act. But my art is a priority for sure. I am at my studio (430-1000 Parker Street, Vancouver)

5 days a week, mostly during school hours. I definitely have to be organized and self motivated, though; particularly when it comes to the “business” component of my art career.

What's your favorite all time favorite art piece of yours and why? of another artist?

Truth is, I rarely like any of my paintings and that is what keeps me motivated to work harder. Painting is like problem solving for me. It is an on-going struggle and complete solutions are rare! I do think I am making progress with my abstract work, though. “Conversations After School” is a liberating shift away from my earlier representational work. This painting is part of a series called “The Road to Excess”. It has a conceptual element to it that relates to my experiences as a mother, a teacher and an artist. I painted this piece in 2009 during a very tumultuous time in my life when my family and I were transitioning from 2 years travelling abroad. It is grounded in the familiar, but has a disjointed, aerial perspective to it. I like that.

With regards to my favorite works by other artists, Robert Motherwell’s paintings have had the most profound effect on me. I saw his work in person for the first time at The Museum of Modern Art in NYC last summer. Pure color and form! I also can never get enough of Turner’s seascapes or Lucien Freud’s raw figures.

What are you working on currently (a new series, calendar, other) and please tell us about it...

I am working on my “Futile Attraction” series which is really a continuation of the piece above. Conceptually speaking, these paintings are about universals: messy relationships we share but never truly own. And about “desires not met . . . not yet”.

Romeo’s Rival

Juliet’s Window

Romeo’s Doorstep

I am also working on visual representation of my 2 favorite poems by E. E. Cummings:

In Just-Spring” and “may I feel? said he”.

Though the style of these works seems completely different from latest my abstract work, they contain similar elements in paint application and in color palette. They are set in the past but they represent the same universal ideas about the nature of our relationships as my current abstractions.

This is a very personal project that will likely be a long time in the making.

In Just-Spring – in progress

For you, what is the best thing about being and artist?

Having a voice.

For you, what is the most challenging thing about being an artist?

Having an authentic, unique voice.

How would you define success for yourself as an artist? What are some successes you have achieved thus far on your journey, and what has been a key factor in you achieving your success?

Success for me is about critical acclaim in the art world. While I am happy to sell my work so that I can practically maintain my profession (I have sold about %80 of the work I have completed), I am not really motivated by sales. I want to know, eventually, that what I have to offer has significance. I’m a bit of an existentialist by nature, so, of course, this is an absurd goal.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to other artists -- specifically to other painters?

Travel to gain humility and perspective; see lots and lots of work by other artists; be ruthless in your commitment to learning.

I am, as you know, a big believer in self care - especially for artists! What do you do to nourish yourself and soul? To re-charge your batteries so to speak?

Hmmm . . . I think I should work on this more. Exercise always provides a lift for me, though. Wine works, too.

What recent or upcoming shows/and or gallery representation can we look out for or go and see of your work?

I was only recently juried into The Federation Gallery on Granville Island and will be submitting work for their landscape, figures, and Painting on the Edge shows this year. In the meantime I will be exhibiting at the Roundhouse with Artists in our Midst on May 16th, at the Centre for Peace on May 19th. Laura Jewitt Jewelry Gallery on West 10th often features my smaller piece and participating in The Eastside Culture Crawl in November is a given for me. All of these shows will be listed on my blog well ahead of time.

Deborah Bakos, I really enjoyed hearing your responses to my questions. Thank you for taking the time to partake in this interview!

My pleasure, Deb. Thank you for the opportunity