Over the past few years the artist known as ‘Bael’ has found a definite place on the London art scene, by producing a stunning series of stark, haunting figurative paintings.
We’re all really excited about this feature where he talks us through his retrospective, creative process and shows us some of his preliminary sketch work. He also answers our questions an interview.
I had left art education with nothing in the way qualifications; I had a couple of years where I stopped painting altogether, but began to engage with art again around 2004. These initial works where much more realistic than my current work, as I wanted to practice more traditional rendering, so these works are more studies than final pieces
2006 – 2010
A sort of artistic breakthrough came in 2006, when I painted, what I consider, my first serious work: ‘Caught’. It originally started as a much more traditional painting, but as I became deeply unhappy with what was on the canvas, I covered it up with white paint, and began scrawling this figure with red and blue pastel, when I stepped back after 2 or 3 hours and saw what I had done, it felt like I had created something unique and something that was very personal. ‘Caught’ laid the path for the development of my style and approach and the was the beginning of my pseudonym ‘Bael’
2010 – 2011
I began to explore the idea of creating figurative work that had emotional power, but achieved this with a raw and instinctive approach to the mark making and the composition. Around this time I was preparing for my first solo exhibition with Signal Gallery in London, so I choose the theme of man as animal for my 2011 exhibition ‘Die Tiere’ aka The Beasts
2011 – 2012
Second exhibition Rokoko was held at Signal Gallery in 2012. As my previous work had concentrated on the ‘masculine’ figure, I wanted to explore ideas of feminine beauty and sexuality. These works have a darker and more decadent atmosphere, but still retain an austere approach and excecution
The piece I have chosen to show my process is my painting: Erebus/Burden, this is a good example of a piece that changed direction half way through, I originally intended the figure to be much darker, but I felt that a paler central element would balance the composition much better and bring attention to the black abstract hair.
After leaving Art College, I just drifted around and worked minimum wage jobs, spending what little money I had at the weekend having a good time. I was incredibly shy and introverted as a child, so those years away from art when I came out of my shell and engaged with the world and other people.
Why did you not continue with art? Were you disillusioned with the career prospects of being a working artist or was it insecurities around your own abilities?
I don’t think really I had anything to express at that age and had no faith in my own ability.
Going a step back for a moment, outside of this website I’m quite interested in the creative development of children. Can you tell me a little about your own creative development? Were you parents creative? Was it encouraged at home / school or something you figured out on your own? Did you try any other creative channels before settling on painting?
I consider myself very fortunate to come from an extremely loving and encouraging family. In a creative sense, my dad has had the biggest influence on me, he loves music, film and art, he’d studied at Art College and had a strong technical gift for drawing, so I would ask him to draw something like a robot or a super hero and just sit and watch how he did it.
It’s fascinating to see the birth of your artistic development with “Caught”. It’s amazing how many creative leaps have been made from mistakes! It sounds like it was your Eureka moment and you knew immediately it was something special. What happened after that? Did you feel freshly inspired and churn out a lot of work quite quickly or you feel any pressure to recreate the feat?
After I had painted ‘Caught’ I began to show it to people to see how they reacted? What really struck me, was that nearly everyone who saw it had a strong emotional reaction to it, some people said in scared them, other people found the figured slightly melancholic and vulnerable. I felt I’d created someone genuine and unique, so I had to try and figure out what it was about that painting that had worked so well in engaging the viewer.
How would you say your work has changed since that piece and what elements of it remain?
I think everything I do has some trace of ‘Caught’. It brought me to the conclusion that I wanted to create a human form that had emotional weight and presence, but still had a raw energy and execution.
How would you describe your work?
I guess my work is my attempt to capture human emotion and form in a raw, true and effecting way
Can you tell me a little more about the latest series “Rokoko”? What does the name mean? What was your inspiration? What time period were the pieces created over?
The Rokoko exhibition was created between: November 2011 – April 2012. I’ve always disliked the art of the Rococo era, it is trivial and utterly shallow in every sense, and is the embodiment of self-delusion and self-satisfaction. So, I decided to take something I hated and use it as a kind of ‘inverted’ inspiration.
The grand palaces created during the Rococo period where decorated with paintings and sculptures of Greek myths such as: Narcissus, Pan, Eurydice and Eros, but the taste and sensibility of the era required these myths to be made tame and decorative, rather than expressing the often dark and violent nature of the tales. So I took these same myths and re-imagined them in my own style and approach, re-instating the sinister and sexual elements that had been taken away. The change of spelling to Rokoko, was my way of changing the word to suit my own aesthetic and meaning.
You have looked at men and women separately in your two shows. Do you associate them with different emotions or when stripped down to the level you take them are they all the same?
I hadn’t looked at it that way, but your right! It was never a conscious decide to show them separated, it just seems to have happened without me being aware.
Do you have a preference now, having spent significant time on both separately?
I love the human form in any every sense, but the female form has a complex beauty that I feel brings out the best in my work
Is the next logical step to put them together or do you think you will keep them as separate studies?
Funny you should mention that! My next body of work is going to explore the relationship between men and women; I want to move forward and begin to look at the consequence of physical and emotional interaction.
How much use do you make of your sketch book. Do you use it just when prepping a piece or is it always on you and always being used?
I generally don’t use a ‘sketch book’ as such, I generally work on separate pieces of paper and work on a single image until I am happy with it. I’ve never liked keeping a sketchbook, as I don’t like have a large collection of ‘rough’ work lying around that I’m not happy with, if I’m not 100% sure with something I’ve produced, I generally destroy it.
Do you work with life models?
I love life drawing, but usually as I exercise to keep my hand and eye alert to what’s immediately in front of me. The poses I want for my work are extremely hard for a model to hold, for any length of time, so I use photographs of the models and work from them.
It’s interesting to see the hummingbird skull in your sketchbook? Up till now your work has been about humans striped back almost to the point of being animals. Is the skull a sign of things to come in your work it is it merely a random sketch I shouldn’t read too much into?
Skulls, especially animal skulls are something that has interested my since I was a child, not because they represent death, but because I find the structure and form of animal skulls extremely beautiful. The Hummingbird skull is one of many studies of skulls that I have done recently, I have drawn skulls of: Cats, Hyenas, Rhino’s, Pelicans, Reptiles etc. They are a private fascination.
It’s not clear from the images here exactly what materials you are using. Can you tell us?
My materials are high grade acrylic paint and oils in some areas, but I guess the most distinctive element is charcoal sticks: as they are intended to be a drawing material, they’ve allowed me to retain the kind of ‘line’ that exists in my drawings and transpose that into the paintings.
Where did the name Bael come from and when did you give yourself it?
It’s a kind of abbreviation of my name Michael Bell, its just came out of nowhere, most of my favourite musicians use pseudonyms: Aphex Twin, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy etc So I wrote it a few times to see if it worked and it just felt right, so I started using it around 2008.