Studio Zung presents STRATA, Joe Henry Baker’s latest collection of paintings that explores the layers of movement through a series of monolithic, primal and organic expressions. As his solo show comes to an end, we sat down with Joe to learn more about him through a series of intimate questions.
On view online and in person until December 2nd at 41 Grand Street. No appointment necessary.
Without giving away your location, describe where you are right now. What are the things you see, smell, or hear around you?
I’m sitting on a tall, rather uncomfortable metal stool. But that’s ok because I never sit for long. I hear the gentle bustle of a city street (behind Ty Segall playing), I see a work surface with layers of paint and scribbles of phone numbers on it, I smell sawdust.
Taste, touch, smell, sound, sight — which of the five senses do you rely on the most? Why?
Touch and sight for me - my practice revolves around the tactile experience, my ideas for new works are always flushed out by physically making and experiencing the materials.
Tell us about your relationship to Studio Zung. To begin, how did our relationship start and how has it evolved over time? Could you describe one of your favorite moments or projects working with Tommy/our studio?
I was introduced to Studio Zung through our mutual friend Talley, whom I worked with on a show last year with Saturdays. After being invited into the space I immediately fell in love with the energy of their storefront and their openness to new ideas, which made the curation process highly collaborative and refreshing. Having Tommy and Sarah in the studio mid process and both parties moving and curating the works was a real joy for me.
We want to know more about your creative process, walk us through it. How do you begin your projects? Do you anchor it with an image, a material, color, feeling? How do you come to a stopping point and know your work is complete, if you ever think so?
I often draw inspiration from seeing incredible art and time in nature. For this particular series, I had just been to the Moma and spent time with Monet’s lily pads. I was already playing with the materials, however the depth and subtleties of colors in his work, as well as the scale, made me rush back to the studio.
I always have books open in my studio, varying from classic abstract painting to photography to sculpture. A single image can send your mind racing, regardless of its context to your practice. I never draw out ideas, my energy levels always require me to get to work right away with the material and it in turn reveals to me complexities I wouldn’t have understood otherwise. Sometimes the work is obviously finished, other times I set things aside, rotate them, bring them into my home, move them around, and it will click whether it needs further work or not. I’m always ready to risk adding more or starting again.
What was your inspiration behind STRATA?
For the past year I’ve been working with the foamular board that makes up the show, and had been wanting to share some of these unseen works. The opportunity to exhibit at Studio Zung allowed me to focus on this vignette series, pulling inspiration from nature, be it online images or a walk on the beach. I love the organic feel to the color palette and the high gloss finish deepens dark colors and highlights the lighter ones, encasing these cascading colors.
How would you describe your work? How do other people describe your work?
Playful, approachable, colorful, humble, with an emphasis on materiality. These words play over in my head when I’m working in the studio, echos of studio visits that inspire and drive me.
Think of an object in your home that has the most significance to you. Could you share with us what it is and the memory behind it?
I collect a lot of small artworks and sculptural items both when I travel and when I’m just cycling around the city. I have a beautiful framed etching of Madison Square that I found in a dumpster which I love - I’m still searching for the artist. I also have a ceramic owl from Mexico that is a flute in disguise.
We live in a society where so much of our identity is surrounded by the things we consume whether that be the things we buy, the food we eat, or the content we see, along with the fast paced nature of it. How do you approach mindful living and sustainability in the context of your work and in your everyday life?
I find it impossible to buy myself a t-shirt, but can easily spend a fortune on a tool upgrade. I like to spend money where it helps me advance, learn and be active. In the studio, when stretching and building my own canvases, I keep every scrap in the hope of repurposing it in another way. I spend countless hours scouring hardware stores for new materials and ways to rethink how something could be used - cheap cement brushes for painting, hardwearing drop clothes as a canvas, floor boards as frames. I enjoy elevating humble materials into art works and sharing that story.
What do you envision for yourself in five years?
My studio practice has grown so much over the last two years, in terms of scale of the works as well as the physical space, and I hope to continue this. A large workshop where I could have multiple projects in multiple materials working at once. The opportunity to travel and create on the move too. In the next five years I just want as many eyes on my work as possible.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I want people to feel empowered to make things themselves, and to feel like the art world is somewhere they can comfortably find themselves, be it as an artist or a buyer or both. I see my practice as my form of meditation, and I think this is reflected in the engrossing quality of the work. The work invites you to spend time with it, explore its nuances, find something new each time.
Are you looking forward to anything in the next few months? Any new exciting projects or plans?
Earlier this year I was invited out to Napa Valley to paint with wine at Faust vineyard, and now we are collaborating on their next artist series wine label. I have some travel planned over the holidays to places new and old, and I’m excited to return to the studio early next year refreshed and inspired.
Favorite time of day (or night)
Straight out of bed morning energy is my favorite. 2am is also fun.
One daily ritual you practice
English breakfast tea, one cup, first thing.
Making small wooden ducks.
Ocean or the mountains
Both please, preferably next to each other.
A dream you have yet to fulfill
Owning a dog.
STRATA at Studio Zung
41 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday - Friday
10 am - 6 pm
No appointment necessary
Photo courtesy of Brock Dehaven and Joe Henry Baker