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Worry less and have more fun - Interview with painter Nina Baxter

’On Euclid Ave & 14th’ was her first work to catch my attention. The title refers to an exact location on Miami’s South Beach, but it could well be the name of her next exhibition. Any mention of the Greek mathematician, founder of geometry, could not be more relevant to Nina Baxter’s artistic output. We meet at The Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey. Her studio is the perfect refuge from London's grey winter.

Nina Baxter

Almost all interviews start by asking about your background. Instead, we would like to know five things about yourself that might come as a surprise

1 When I was younger, I wanted to either be a ballet dancer or a fashion designer.

2. I love country music.

3. Ducks are one of my favourite animals.

4. I have visited Prague about eight times.

5. Believe by Cher is one of my go-to karaoke songs.

Is there one experience in life that has shaped the artist you are today?

As any of my friends would tell you, I am incapable of making decisions; so, choosing one experience is practically impossible for me. As an artist, I feel I am constantly being shaped by my experiences: by books I have read, places I’ve travelled to, people I’ve met, other artists' work, music, plays, films and personal struggles I’ve had to overcome. Each of these elements contributes to the constant formation of my artistic style and sensibilities.

[L] Euclid Ave & 14th [R] On Ocean Drive

[L] On Euclid Ave & 14th  -  Based on The Temple House by Lawrence Murray Dixon  -  acrylic on canvas 60 x 80 cm

[R] On Ocean Drive  -  Based on The Edison Hotel  -  acrylic on canvas 60 x 80 cm

What does your average working day look like? Do you paint a little bit every day or do you work in concentrated bursts?

My days tend to vary quite a lot depending on what I’m working on at that time. Sometimes I can spend a whole week without doing any painting at all. Research, keeping on top of emails and social media, updating my website, these things can all take up quite a bit of time. When I’m preparing for an exhibition there will most likely be multiple trips to the framers, uber-ing paintings around London (unless the exhibition is further afield) and a number of other tasks that can sometimes make it feel like hardly any of my time is spent painting and producing work! The reverse of this, however, is when I can spend weeks at length, solidly in the studio, working on new pieces and experimenting with ideas; this is definitely my favourite time.

Have you ever experienced a sort of artist’s block? How did you overcome it?

Yes. The ‘artist’s block’ I experience is directly related to my mental health. I suffer from depression and have struggled with my mental health in various ways for over ten years. Sometimes the symptoms I experience can become so severe and debilitating that I am unable to work. During these times it can be very difficult – but necessary – to keep in mind that the lack of creativity I am experiencing, or inability to even go into my studio, is not permanent and that I will, sooner or later, turn a corner. I find the narrative we often see of the ‘tortured genius’ and the idea that artists must ‘suffer for their work’ very problematic as it has a tendency to romanticise mental illness among creative people. The relationship between mental health and creativity is undeniably complex and one that I am keen to explore further through my work. When I experience an ‘artist’s block’ in this way it can be very frustrating; by prioritising myself and my health I have always been able to break out of these periods eventually. Often, I find that the work I produce after a period like this is some of my best because it is so personal, and I am always so excited to finally be painting again.

Many galleries in London are trying to address the gender imbalance of artists exhibited in their spaces. Not only women are shown less than men, but their works sell for far less money too. Have you experienced situations where you feel you were treated as a lesser artist simply because of your gender?

Gender inequality, sexism and misogyny are such important topics we all need to be discussing, not just in relation to the art world, of course, but across all fields. Fortunately, the majority of galleries I have worked with have been very inclusive and, for the most part, I have felt like I have been treated equally. However, it certainly helps that I often seek out opportunities to exhibit with galleries and organisations who prioritise female artists and the need to address the gender imbalances within the industry. One of my highlights from last year, for example, was taking part in the 157th Annual Exhibition for the Society of Women Artists at Mall Galleries. At the Private View, Soraya French and HRH Princess Michael of Kent spoke about the strength of women, the strides we have made towards equality within the arts as well as in society, and the progress that still needs to be made. It was a wonderful experience to exhibit my work alongside so many other brilliant women, in an exhibition where the atmosphere exuded support and empowerment.

 

The Wall - Nina Baxter

[L] The Wall  -  acrylic on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm  -  Based on the housing project La Muralla Roja by Ricardo Bofill

[R] Nina Baxter in her studio

If you were to go back to the very beginning of your career, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Simply to worry less and have more fun.

How would you describe your relationship with social media? Does it help your practice or simply take time away from it?

Although I have several social media accounts on different platforms, the only one I really use is Instagram. Last year I started to give a lot of thought to my relationship with social media, particularly as an artist. I think the role that social media has come to play for artists is very interesting and certainly a double-edged sword. It feels expected and necessary for visual artists to have a social media presence; yet platforms such as Instagram can have a negative effect on the way artists produce, view and value their own work. Does the insatiable appetite for ‘new content’ lead to a throwaway attitude that prevents audiences from properly engaging with work? Or is social media an invaluable platform allowing for unprecedented exposure and connectivity? I sit very much on the fence. I have, however, formed working partnerships with galleries and companies who have contacted me directly after seeing my work online; it is undeniable that Instagram has enabled me to share my work with a much wider global audience that I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.

What artistic milestones are you particularly proud of achieving and what would you love to achieve? 

There are several milestones that stand out in my memory, particularly from my career in the past couple of years. These would include seeing my work in print for the first time in exhibition catalogues, magazines and journals which sit proudly in my bookshelf; my first international exhibition in Bologna (which I attended with an entourage of friends); being invited to a secondary school art class who had been studying my paintings for a project on colour theory; and seeing my work exhibited alongside pieces by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Red Dot Miami for Miami Art Week. The next artistic milestone I would love to achieve would be to have my first solo show.

And finally, who would you most like to interview?

As mentioned before, decision making is not my forte, therefore, I have narrowed my answer down to my top five choices of interviewees: Agnes Martin, Bridget Riley, Grayson Perry, Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko.

 

More information on Nina Baxter can be found at www.ninabaxterart.com and www.instagram.com/nina_baxter All images are copyright of the artist.

Collage

[L] The fear of having to deal with the consequences of other people's ignorant decisions  -  [R] A positive attitude always wins  -  paper collages

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