North Vancouver artist Steve Baylis combines a range of unique influences with his own driven spiritual inquiry.
In Baylis’ oil paintings, he is not representing known objects or figures, but speaking directly through the paint. He seeks to reflect energy itself, from its micro form to the level of the universe. His compositions can be divided into clusters even while they work as organic wholes. Elements like colour, tone, and form speak their own language, both directly and in interaction with each other. In Incarceration of Comprehension for instance, we see his use of vibrant neon yellow points beam out from beneath deep saturated blues. The viewer could be looking at extreme close-ups of nature, particle clusters, details of an inner landscape, or simply forms of paint, pigment, and brushstroke themselves. His sensitivity to his materials having their own voice honours the same qualities in Mark Rothko’s later “multiform” paintings, as well as colour field painters like Barnett Newman – both of whom have been great influencers of Baylis’ oeuvre.
Baylis’ process is specific to the characteristics he seeks to emphasize. He starts by bleaching and staining the panel. Then he applies clear gesso, developing or minimizing texture as the piece invites. He builds oil and wax glazes of transparent pigment and then responds to them with final passes of gestural brushwork. As a body of work, it would land well within abstract expressionism, yet Baylis also subtly references photographic representation. He does so by embracing the precision and pixelation of Chuck Close’s portraiture; exploring each paint stroke as entities in themselves.
Sharing a certain radiance that transcends any one element of the painting is central to Baylis’ vision. As much as he engages deeply with contemporary and recent art, considering both technique and concept, he processes his work through a personal meditative practice. Intuition, memory, experience, and feeling are given space to emerge, and Baylis’ role becomes one of receptivity as he surrenders compositional direction to their guidance.
One arena in which Baylis’ theoretical learning and his inner meditative experience particularly inform each other is in his fascination with theoretical physics, specifically Unified Field Theory, which attempts to encompass the fundamental forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear into a single field. Baylis seeks an understanding of place, both in the universe, and within the self.
As with energy and particles in physics, we can choose in Baylis’ paintings to see their fragmented parts, or their overall unity. Modeling nature itself, Baylis is in fact deliberately offering both at once. Size here is critical – the paintings are neither small enough to force a narrow focus, nor large enough for the viewer to lose scope of the organic whole from a single perspective. The viewer is invited into a space that is contained, but ample in room to explore and synthesize. Baylis is not content with self-expression but the further step of a conversation with the others. Here the painting is not an endpoint for himself or the viewer, but the doorway to a relationship between both – and so the emotive radiance in Baylis’ work transcends its material makeup.
Steve Baylis was born in Vancouver BC in 1980. He studied Art & Design at Kwantlen University and continued his training at Capilano University, where he mentored under artist Kiff Holland.