The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series
Painting and photography courtesy of Ahbyah BakerDripshape 25, gouache on wood panel (41 x 41 centimetres).
Ahbyah Baker lives in Vancouver. She received a diploma from the Kootenay School of the Arts in British Columbia, and a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
Why did you choose painting as your medium?
The medium itself is very accessible. The materials are simple. You don’t need a lot to achieve what you want to do. The minimal aspect to it—it can be very clean.
How has your work progressed?
I used to be more of a representational painter. But, over the years, I stripped away a lot of what I felt were the unnecessary elements. I got to the point where it was almost just purely formal—composition, line, and colour.
Whose works have influenced you?
Agnes Martin, Morris Louis. Whistler was a huge influence in the beginning. They all share that kind of paring down—that watering down of the medium. For a while, I was really attracted to Carl Andre and the idea of just using the natural beauty in a material. I found that really intriguing and wanted to somehow incorporate it in my own work.
Does theory inform your work?
No, not at all. I don’t ignore it either; it’s just never been my thing. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes and it just gets too messy for me.
Portrait of the artist’s studio.
When you look at your work, past and present, is there anything that surprises you?
The work has an emotion, and there are moments when you connect to that emotion. I don’t know if anyone else sees it, but I’ll see it from time to time. The work can surprise me in that it shows something and it’s not just blank.
Do you see any dominant trends in Canadian art?
In Vancouver, there generally seems to be a lot of abstract work—minimal colour, grey, much like the weather. On the East Coast, it’s a lot more gestural and colourful.
Tell us about where you work.
I love my studio. It’s got a good feeling. There are no walls, and you’re just free to mill around and see your work from different perspectives.
How do you respond to art that has been reproduced, either on a website or in a magazine?
I’ve got to see art in the flesh. My father is a painter, so growing up, I was able to see what painting could look like. But, some people I went to school with hadn’t really gotten to see a lot of historical work in person. When they did see it, they were shocked at the inconsistencies.
Where is the best art scene in Canada?
I don’t know, but I know it’s not here. It’s all right, but it’s just small and cliquey. There’s not a lot of room for different ideas. There’s always one ruling idea and those people get in to all the shows. It gets really repetitive and uninspiring.
This interview has been condensed and edited for publication. See all fifteen finalists at TheWalrus.ca/cpc.