Exclusive interview with artist Dan Baldwin exhibiting in Sheffield
99 Mary Street opens its doors to the public today to view the first solo exhibition of limited-edition silkscreen prints by acclaimed artist Dan Baldwin.
With the additional release of Dan’s new book, Dan Baldwin: 23 years, Sheffield Unchained seized the opportunity for an exclusive interview.
Dan spoke to us about the struggles of an independent artist endeavouring to make a living out of his passion, his own thoughts on his works and his success in becoming internationally acclaimed.
A long, hard road to success
Born in Manchester in 1972 Dan grew up in Lancashire and began an apprenticeship in plumbing at the age of 17.
“After a year I decided plumbing wasn’t for me and my old art teacher at school guided me to art college.”
Dan, 40, said it took sixteen years, five of which he spent at the Eastbourne College of Art & Design and the Kent Institute of Art & Design, before he became a full-time artist.
“After art college I ran a newsagents in Brighton from 7am until 1pm. I had a studio I rented and was there until midnight most days. Then I ran a video shop, so I worked three days a week and painted the rest of the time.”
“I also did other things to earn money, like appear in commercials and a bit of TV work, it was a very long, hard road until 2006 when I became a full-time artist.”
Dan said his lucky break happened in 2003 when a gallery in London started exhibiting his art as part of group shows. Then in 2004 Dan was invited to appear on series 1 of the BBC show The Apprentice, where he was named one of the top 5 artists in the country by Sir Alan Sugar.
“Printmaking also became a vital part of going full-time as it brought in a regular pay cheque. In 2006/2007 there was a mad boom in urban contemporary art, which I benefited from.
“I’ve had to be very careful how I’ve steered my ship forwards since then and I have turned down as many galleries as I’ve worked with over the years.”
In 2013 Dan was signed to LA based management firm Pat Magnarella. Pat is highly respected in the music industry for representing the rock bands Green Day and Goo Goo Dolls, as well as managing several visual artists, including DFace, Logan Hicks and Charming Baker.
Dan said that when Pat approached him about becoming his manager he was thrilled.
“I have worked with galleries for ten years, but Pat brings a new approach to my work. Artists need security and it can be hard sometimes as you are solitary, especially when dealing with high profile commissions or clients.
A managers role is to look after their artist and promote them and there are very strong links to the way a band or an artist may be handled, ultimately it’s about getting yourself out there to a wider audience.”
All about life
Dan works with many mediums and is very experimental in his approach. He explains that his art follows about five different directions but always comes back to the theme of life.
“I paint in a figurative way and in a non-perspective allegorical way, encompassing ceramic pots, tile paintings, abstraction and sculpture. So I’m very open to cross-media but the themes always connect.”
When making his prints Dan works with Coriander studios, who also make Damien Hirst’s prints. He believes that they are the ‘best in the world’.
“We use gold leaf, diamond dust, embossing and glow in the dark ink, many, many layers go into these prints. I’m very experimental; I’ve always used real objects in my art, from Iraqi money to bullets, hand grenades and animal skulls.
“I love surface and object, meaning, feeling and putting everything together in a careful balance. In my ceramics I cast the 3D objects like monkey skulls or weapons in clay, which creates a strong duality of contrast.”
Whilst Dan’s work is all about life, he says that within this there is decay, science, war, religion, love, innocence and symbolism. He says he is inspired by objects and imagery, from old nostalgic toys to science books.
An attack on the visual senses
“You get pulled in and the level of content can almost hypnotise you. I love the fact that Dan often uses objects collected since childhood in his work, we get the feeling we are part of his life’s journey.”
Nik and Jon Daughtry of DED Associates and 99 Mary Street have known Dan for several years but only physically met him four weeks ago at his recent London show.
“Before this our relationship was an online affair. We were introduced ‘virtually’ several years ago when we both had prints in ink_d, a gallery in Brighton. There was a mutual liking of each other’s work and we subsequently traded pieces.
“Through the years we have continued to follow Dan’s career, we’ve kept in touch and collected several more of his stunning pieces of print.
“When we first came up with the idea for 99 Mary Street, we placed some of Dan’s prints on the walls in our rough concept sketches for the space. We always hoped Dan would show here right from the start.”
Dan said that he was keen to visit Sheffield, as this is the first time he has been to the city he describes as “always having a reputation for being very cool and cutting edge.”