SELF-styled “quasi-surrealist” artist Andrew Baines is a man who uses the whole landscape as his canvas.
He’ll be here in late February with a solo exhibition of surreal paintings at the Nancy Sever Gallery but meantime, the Adelaide artist has been making a public name for himself across the country with interventions where his art intersects with society.
In October, for instance, he created an installation at North Cottesloe Beach in WA where he photographed dozens of people wearing masks holding white flowers as a symbol of acceptance to highlight World Mental Health Day, and in April this year he plans to put six Shetland ponies painted with zebra stripes into the ocean in South Australia.
Baines has form. In 2010 he persuaded Malcolm Turnbull to be part of an art event at Bondi Beach where he lined up 100 suited volunteers holding umbrellas while standing in the Bondi surf, to highlight work-life balance.
2013 saw him releasing a herd of Friesian cows into the shallows at a beach in Geelong “to give the cows some R & R from their boring regime of milking.”
“Of the dozens I’ve created over the years,” he tells us, “my most bizarre and publicised event was to line up 12 suited volunteers sitting on toilets at a beach in Adelaide, as a silent protest due to the lack of toilets for the area.” Former politician Amanda Vanstone was among the participants.
Alas, when he recently suggested to Australian Parliament House that a herd of cows wading in the pool near the front entrance would make a fantastic visual image, they wouldn’t agree to it.
“It would have given the cows an insight into politics, as to why the cow farmers aren’t getting attention, maybe they’d have paid heed to the cows – it’s a social issue.”
From such public events, Baines says, he creates surrealist paintings to sell.
“Most of my paintings have been created from my live installations, using real live cows, well-known politicians, orchestras and hundreds of sausage dogs, just to name a few.”
But in his Canberra exhibition the focus will be on dairy cows, “suits” standing in the sea and his use of shadows on lighthouses to create a narrative.
Lighthouses, he explains, are one of his trademarks.
“For me, lighthouses symbolise solitude, serenity and escapism from the grey urban streets, 9-5 grind and maddening rush… With my lighthouse paintings I try to capture the simplistic, often overlooked parts of life. A suited man looks out to sea, ironically ‘searching for solitude,’ [but] no matter how much we try to escape there is always a new problem… Behind my aesthetically pleasing paintings there is a dark side, as there is a dark side to everything.
“On the whole, my work deals with escapism from reality.”
Baines has only been to Canberra twice before, so only really knows Northbourne Avenue and Lonsdale Street, “where the nice cafes are”, as well as that it’s a town with lots of public servants.
“I feel the Canberra ‘suits’ will relate to my work,” he says.
Paintings by Andrew Baines, Nancy Sever Gallery, Gorman Arts Centre, Batman St (corner Currong St), Braddon, February 19-March 29.