Interview with Rick Baker
q) Please tell us a brief info about yourself.
a)My name is Rick Baker.
My drawing pseudonym is Silav, which is “VALIS” spelled backwards. VALIS is an acronym for “Vast Active Living Intelligence System” and the title of a 1981 Philip K. Dick book about Gnosticism, madness and the true nature of “reality”. According to Dick, VALIS was an aspect of God that revealed itself to him in the form of pink laser beams.
I have never had a mystical vision. Not really.
My drawings vary in content and style. But they all function as a catharsis for me. The act of drawing is a kind of meditation. Through it, I seem to be able to find a sort of psychological and emotional balance. Plus, it’s fun.
I have only recently begun think of myself as an ‘artist’.
I am 39 years old and live with my wife Hilary in South Pasadena, northeast of Los Angeles.
q) Tell us about your humble beginnings, When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
a)I have drawn for as long as I can remember.
Early on, I was heavily influenced by newspaper comic strips and television. Common subject matter included animals, race cars, traffic accidents, football players, Garfield and the celebrity panel from the Gong Show.
I remember I would often draw pictures and show them to my mother. She dispensed unconditional praise.
When I was 12, I wrote a latter to Jim Davis (creator of Garfield). 10 months later I received, in response, a signed ‘photo’ of Garfield.
When I was 13, I created an entire baseball league made up of exotic animals (the Milwaukee Chinchillas, the Kankakee Kinkajous, the Walla Walla Wallabies…you get the idea).
Another early influence was a television personality named Tom Hatten, who hosted a Sunday morning show on KTLA (out of Los Angeles). He dressed like a sailor and introduced cartoons (Popeye, Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle)…in between, he would invite viewers to send him ‘squiggles’—little abstract doodles, which he would make into cartoon characters. I started doing that constantly—I would make a ‘squiggle’ with my eyes closed and then try to find faces or bodies in them…
I still do that, in a way.
q)What are your tools of the trade and why?
a)For the most part, I use only pens (Micron, Staedtler, Rapidograph, Prismacolor). Sometimes graphite, crayons or a touch of acrylic paint.
I suppose I use these instruments because they give me the most control. I think my better drawings are the ones in which I challenge this tendency to ‘be tight’ by letting in some kind of chaos that I have to accept and ‘make sense of’.
I like details that only come into view when you look very carefully…
q)Who or what gives you inspiration on your morbid art?
a)Who: Ernst Haeckel, Hans Bellmer, Albrecht Dürer, Joseph Cornell, Hieronymus Bosch, Chris Ware, Marc Bell, Henry Darger, Jack Chick, Adolf Wolfi, Robert Crumb, Raymond Pettibon, Jason Rhoades, Led Zeppelin
What: Television, plant morphology, decay, horror movies, cryptozoology, pre-20th century anatomical drawings, old photographs found in thrift stores, Viewmasters, spirit photography, diseases, Christian propaganda, esoteric cosmology, bunny rabbits and the Bible.
q)Is your artistic background self-taught or did you go to college to study?
a)I took a year of art in high school and one drawing class at a community college. Both were very helpful. But for the most part, I have learned from my friends’ successes and my own mistakes.
q)How do you keep “fresh” within your industry?
a)This year was the first time I have ever sold a drawing. So I don’t really have an industry…but I am open to all invitations!
q)What are some of your current projects?
a)At the moment I am working on the third in a series of large drawings. Each one is an abstract interpretation of the Buddhist deity Mahakala.
I am trying some small experiments with found paper (letterhead, ledger paper, etc.).
I also continue to draw pictures based on an album of photos (circa 1950 – 1960) of a boy named Ricky. I bought it at a local thrift store. Ricky had some sort of degenerative muscular disease and grew up in nearby Glendale, California.
q)Which of your works are you the most proud of? And why?
a)I tend to like the drawings with intense detail…not so much because they are technically better, but (because they take so long to complete) they serve as a kind of record of a period of time. I can see, in the repetition and minutiae, the accretion of days and weeks and sometimes months. Those drawings have a kind of ‘psychic weight’ that maybe only I can see…
q) Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
a)The list is too long…I’ve only just begun.
q) What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
a)I tend to go in streaks. I will draw obsessively for months, and then stop for long periods. I am trying to change that. I feel like if I force myself to sit down and work on something everyday, even for a short time, it keeps me stimulated.
Since I have a full-time job—I help manage the estate of an installation artist named Jason Rhoades – I sometimes have to really struggle with a lack of creative energy. But in general, I find that it will kick in if I just sit down and work…Unfortunately, it’s such an easy thing to forget.
q) How do you spend most of your free time?
a)Draw, watch movies, spend time with Hilary, daydream
q) What contemporary artists or developments in art interest you?
a)I’ve only just learned that ‘obsessive art’ is considered a genre…I like Obsessive Art.
In general, I like anything startling, intense or sincere.
q) We really like some of your pictures, how can we get our hands on them? Do you sell them? How?
a)At the moment, I have no proper means of selling my art. I’ve been saying for a year now that I need to start an Etsy.com shop or create a proper website. But I have not. For now, keep an eye on my Flickr.com site (www.flickr.com/silav) for any announcements or developments – and you can always email me directly at email@example.com. I invite all offers, advice, criticism and/or encouragement!