FANTAST IN FOCUS: JAKE BADDELEY
Jake Baddeley’s art is visual alchemy, an exercise in the sublimation of wide-ranging cultural influences. Like an alchemist who synthesises base metals to create the philosopher’s stone, Jake draws on the primeval symbols of Greco-Roman mythology and his own subconscious to produce paintings that seem to shimmer with an ethereal luminescence. He describes them as workings of “light” crafted from his inner sun: the imagination.
The Custodian: Which myths have deeply inspired you?
Jake Baddeley: I find many myths inspirational- particularly creation myths from around the world. Amongst other things, it is their similarity to each other that I find intriguing. The Greek myths were my starting point but I soon found that these were part of a wider heritage that can be traced back to Mesopotamia. How much these similarities are indebted to Jungian archetypes or cultural exchange is to me, still an open question.
C: Can you tell us more about your “scribble-sessions”? At what point does the new work become “numinous”?
J: This is a hard one. If I am honest, I find it hard to separate a successful drawing from a successful idea. When I stare at a new sketch and I feel the magic I am not sure where it comes from. Is it simply a nice line that inspires me or will still work if the drawing sucks. Now that I think about it, this explains why I scribble so uncontrollably. I am looking for ideas that work and they must stand apart from the draftsmanship. Still there must be an area where the two meet. How something is drawn – the life of the line so to speak- is sometimes the essence of the idea.
C: You’ve described how you tap into your psyche to conceive images. Have you ever had any dark or unsettling experiences with some of the images you’ve conceived?
J: I am not a great fan of the dark side. As an idealist, I am more interested in divine beauty than its mirror. Of course, sometimes images appear in my psyche or on paper that I would rather not deal with. In one instance, an image had to be burnt as opposed to simply thrown away. A balance must be found, otherwise a work becomes too sweet. My work often depicts this struggle between aspirations and oppositions.
C: Your most recent painting collection focuses on the Zodiac, but in your earlier works, you also draw on motifs from the Tarot. What first got you interested in archetypal symbolism?
J: Archetypal symbolism for me was discovered in a classic Jungian way. Like any beginning artist, I was confronted with the questions of identity. Who am I and what do I like? I created a collection of images that appealed to me and would use these as a springboard to start a scribble session using a loose sort of associative thinking. Though at this point I had not yet steeped myself in Jungian doctrine, I realised that I was entering the world of the un/subconcious. and was guided entirely by a mysterious aesthetic/ emotional thoughtless process. It soon became obvious that images were recurring. My early work was dominated by a jester-like persona who I later found in Commedia dell’arte depictions and other sources. I was at a loss to understand how I knew what I knew, who this was and why was he important to me. This led me to the concept of the archetypes and the collective unconscious, something I found to be true from my own experiences and not simply a nice idea. That this same persona could be found in mythology as Loki, Ea, Coyote, Hermes or in Western mythology as the Trickster led to an interest in mythology as an expression of the archetypes. This led in turn to an examination of other cultural expressions of these archetypes such as the Tarot.
C: Some of the characters in your paintings are bound with banners that are printed with some kind of glyphic language. What is that?
J: The glyphs and cyphers found in my work come from an interest in symbols and signs- their relation to letters and words or images. Images can be seen as symbols and letters as images, there is no real dividing line but all are a continuum of symbolic thought, something I found to be all pervading in mythology, dreams, and art in general. Sometimes they are meaningless shapes of my own invention used purely for their suggestive appeal; sometimes I research world languages for root forms with the same meaning so that they can actually be read and convey a meaning. This is subservient to the idea that meaning can be multi-layered and always obscure.
C: What are you currently working on?
J: My latest work is a series of small panels exploring alchemic and Masonic themes. I am incorporating my researches into geometry and ancient thought that puts the elements/ planets/ numbers/ metals etc into a coherent framework. The root of this system of thought seems to be India where the oldest and best-preserved examples are still to be found. Examples of this work can be found on my Facebook page and hopefully soon on my website.