Inspired by the Mexican celebration of death, Baker’s art always interferes a uniquely mystic feeling. Her work ranges between the presence of death and the aesthetic of transience. Even though the decorated skulls represent the end of life, you can feel a lightness in her work. One of her latest collaborations took place with José Cuervo, which is the world´s oldest and biggest selling tequila brand. José Cuervo is hosting a series of interactive Day of the Dead workshops in London, which originates from the festival Día de los Muertos on November 2nd, a day of celebration in Mexico and parts of Central and South America.
Volt Café: First off, you found your essential inspiration on a trip to South America 15 years ago. What was your first impression from Mexican culture?
Lauren Baker: It’s a beautiful country with amazing beaches and friendly, fun, playful people. I resonate with the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations – the Mexican culture accepts and perceives death so positively.
VC: During your trip you spent time with shamans in the Peruvian Amazon jungle. What can we learn from them?
LB: They taught me many things…. Not all spoken but sometimes you get an understanding from just being present and in the company of someone enlightened. I learnt that happiness is a choice. That our only limitations are the fear and anxiety that we chose to hold on to, and that when we chose to own self belief, anything is possible. That we should respect and protect nature and each other. And that life is a fun adventure. Simple stuff that is really obvious but which we need reminding!Also my guru mosaic teacher in Brazil told me that art is medicine and creativity is key to a fulfilling life. Liz Onda – she is a legend.
VC: The upcoming event with José Cuervo Tequila (Day Of The Dead Brought To Life) will include a workshop where you will talk about the symbolism of skulls. What is your personal message?
LB: For me, creating art on an object that holds mystical and spiritual power gives the artwork more depth. I chose to question death and explore it and that comes across in my work. Skulls are a reminder of our mortality, we’re not here forever so it’s important to live in the now. I am, like many people, just drawn to skulls.
VC: Back in Europe, you started right ahead your career as an artist. Could you describe the turning point giving up your PR Job?
LB: I used to work in marketing and event management and I wanted a change, so I went on an adventure to South America. I was reading The Power of Now at the time. I joined a street art project making mosaics in Brazil. It was in the Peruvian Amazon, surrounded by dense vegetation and wildlife, that I had an epiphany to become an artist. I then researched the best place to study mosaic and left Columbia heading for Venice. I’ve been working full time as an artist for two and a half years now and I love my job.
VC: Where do you get the skulls and horns back in the urban jungle?
LB: The human skulls are made from resin poured from my own mold and the animals are sometimes resin too. Selfridges requested faux skulls. The real animals are from my trusted sources in the country and I’m in touch with various walking groups who send me sun-bleached skulls.
VC: What is your inspiration for the ritualistic patterns?
LB: My skulls have been described as everything from pop art pieces to sacred majestic creatures. The patterns on skulls called ‘Jungle’ and ‘Amazon’ are inspired by my time in the Amazon jungle – the designs are of vivid colour, organic vines mixed with hearts and geometric diamond shapes. They are fun, playful pieces that remind me of experimentation, explosions of thought, realization, emersion in nature, powerful healing and transformation. I was soaking up all the knowledge from the shamans and at total peace in the jungle. It was an unreal time and the experience was somewhat otherworldly.
VC: The strong interest in your work can already be seen in collaborations with Tate Modern, Harrods and Vogue. Although they all have different focuses, they are interested in your skull art. What do you think the common thread is?
LB: The Enchanted Afterlife collection – of human and animal skulls – is my first artworks and it has had an amazing response. The fascination with skulls and their symbolism is a widely appreciated phenomenon that echoes through time. Why are they drawn to my take on skulls? I guess you’d have to ask them. The Tate Britain Curator, Carey Robinson, recently said I ‘engage people in a unique and atmospheric way’. That might not fully answer your question but it’s a tough question! You’ve picked up on the skulls, but my newer work has had a great response too – there’s the crystal encrusted animal sculptures – The Wolf and The Tiger. Last month I made the world’s first infinity mirror coffin, called The White Light, which I launched at Tate Britain and Moniker Art Fair. I get such a buzz out of light installations and I was so excited to release my neon flashing lightning bolts in Selfridges’ windows. I’m a contemporary multi-media artist and I’m evolving fast and always interested in new materials and techniques.
VC: Your successful workshop at Tate Modern in July brought up really creative works from the participants. What do you think the inspiration was that made the participants decorate their skulls in such a personal way?
LB: Thanks! I’m really proud of my participants’ work. During the workshops I encourage people to explore my work and the historical use of skulls in art and also to consider what they are passionate about and interweave more meaning into their piece. Having a plethora of materials makes it easier to create good art of course and I make sure there are ample supplies for optimum creativity. Most importantly, I encourage people to play. The aim is to have fun.
VC: Could you think of another inspirational trip you would like to do?
LB: Next on my travel list is The Andaman Islands, Japan and Croatia. I’ve been to a lot of places; my favourite countries are Bolivia, Columbia and Laos.
VC: Ok finally, could you tell us about your next projects?
LB: I should be in Laguna Beach, California at my show at ArtCube gallery now but my work is there without me as I am in London working with Jose Cuervo on the Selfridges’ window and the art workshops. I’m really enjoying working with José Cuervo on this wild Day of the Dead vs Nightmare Before Christmas installation. It’s been three months in the making and the response has been phenomenal.
I’ve got a solo show at Hang Up gallery, Stoke Newington, London in early December. I am an ambassador for Save Wild Tigers charity so I’m going to continue working with them to help save tigers. Playing with light and space gives me an enormous buzz so I’m continuing to experiment with this medium.
Lauren Baker and José Cuervo’s window can be viewed at Selfridges Oxford Street until 6th November. Capturing the iconography of the Day of the Dead festival, which can be traced back among Mexico’s pre Hispanic indigenous cultures, the window also seeds some festive elements.
Words by Ellen Grace Albers
TagsDay of the Dead, Ellen Grace Albers, José Cuervo, Lauren Baker,