It is difficult to get bored of Surrealism – perhaps because the form of art happens to be the best mode of expression for the frustrations, contradictions and desires of our age. Adelaide-based surrealist Andrew Baines (born in Colchester, England in 1963) has long painted pictures containing the usual elements of the style – men in bowler hats and cows and so on. But he has pushed the envelope and of late, has been installing surreal “human sculptures” at the beach.
Where from and how did the concept emerge? Andrew explains, “When I was a teenager, my parents took me back to the UK to visit my relatives. One morning, my dad took me on to the London underground at peak hour, where I was greeted by a sea of suited clones. My dad explained, this was ‘The corporate Battery Hen’, they would work 9-5 Monday to Friday for almost their whole lives, when they turn 65 they would retire, be given gold watches and not long after, they would die. Of course, my dad was being sarcastic. Yet my dad’s words and the powerful image of all the suits crushed together like sophisticated cattle became hard copy in my young mind.
“Over a decade ago, I painted a series portraying business people (London underground business people) in the sea as a metaphor for corporate escapism, which was very successful for me. I wanted to somehow evolve the concept, instead of evolving the painted concept I had an epiphany to bring it to life, to take the imagery off my canvas and make it really happen!”
He continues on how he managed to put it together and the avenues that have opened before him: “With much trepidation, I placed an advert in the local paper asking for volunteers to participate in a secret artistic venture. Over 100 people responded! I contacted the major newspaper art critic and told him I would release 100 suited people into the ocean as a metaphor for corporate escapism. He loved the idea and sent a photographer. On the strength of my page 2 story and photography, I contacted other papers throughout Australia telling them what I’d done and what I would do in their state. As time went on my concepts changed dramatically to putting orchestras in the sea, to live cows. Eventually, I was contacted by charities asking me to come up with concepts to highlight their causes while still staying true to my art. I have almost become an artistic vigilante social warrior LOL! – which I love. It gives my art so much more substance. I also continue paint the imagery and it is auctioned off to raise money for the charities. Two years ago, I was contacted by the UNAA (United Nations Association of Australia) to use my creativity to highlight world events. I’m very proud of this work.”
Andrew’s favourite creation was a photo inspired by the Paris terrorist attacks. He went on the local radio and asked for volunteers to meet him at the local beach, to wear all white attire and to bring red, white and blue umbrellas. At dawn, he lined up over hundred people along the water’s edge facing the horizon. “People were crying as they stood silently gazing onto the sea,” he says. “It was the most powerful and greatest thing I’ve one to date.”
A selection of Andrew’s paintings – both of the corporate battery hen and of lonely figures in rural landscapes:
On the image above, Andrew comments: “My favourite paintings are my latest series that portray Rupert the Bear as a 60 year old as he wanders the country side in an existential daze, wondering if he made the right decisions during his early life?”
He has a message not unlike that of other surrealists: “Stop and look around at your life, are you really being you, or are you just being everyone else? Autonomy! Don’t become a sheeple, don’t become life’s flotsam and jetsam, try to take some control and do what you innately feel, because that is why you’re here! Of course, it’s easy for me to say that in such a privileged part of the world. I don’t know how to help the third world societies, all I can do at present is give you my privileged ideals…”
Andrew started as a painter but now feels he can utilise almost anything to bring his ideas to fruition. He is working on a very bizarre project at present – taking a photo of three hundred dachshunds being walked across traffic lights by their suited owners. It will be a metaphor for the inclusiveness of minorities in society. The short-legged dachshund is overshadowed by the bigger breeds and trendy pocket size dogs. He will produce a series of surreal dog paintings inspired by the event for his upcoming solo in Sydney at Soho galleries in March.
“My best work is still to come!” he says. “The more well known I become, the more I will be taken seriously. Eventually, I want to go to a major corporation and say this is my concept can you please finance it and they will see my body of work and say of course!”
All images have been used with permission. Here’s a nice video in which Andrew talks about his art and philosophy: