An evolution of his earlier series involving live human “installations” on beaches, Busselton Bovines features a small group of Holstein Friesian cows assembled for a photo shoot during an International Diary Conference five years ago in Western Australia.
“I had an exhibition in Perth and at the opening a woman came up and said she was organising a big international dairy conference in Busselton,” he says, explaining how Busselton Bovines came about.
“She asked if I wanted to exhibit my cow paintings at the conference.
“I had this idea in my head, which just came to fruition: How about we put a herd of cows in the ocean as the opening?
“She looked at me as if I was crazy but two days later she called up and said she’d been talking to some farmers and they wanted to do it.
“For two months, they acclimatised the cows to water by putting them in a local dam and then, in the middle of summer, truckloads of cows rocked up and they walked them into the water. There were about 300 people waiting for them, taking happy snaps.”
Busselton Bovines is one of 24 artworks in Surreality Bites, Baines’ career retrospective exhibition opening tonight at BMG Art. Several other paintings also feature cows, including The Urban Brawl, which brings the Friesians together with birds and men in bowler hats (another of the artist’s trademark subjects).
The exhibition includes a series based on children’s character Rupert the Bear, which Baines has worked on for the past two years. Baines says two of these works – Importance is an Illusion and The Story Never Ends on the Last Page – are also among his favourites.
“I like to show my buyers that I’m evolving. I think it’s interesting to watch an artist evolve and not settle for what they know sells.
“When I was a kid I used to get sent Rupert the Bear annuals. I was about eight years old and Rupert was the same age.
“About two years ago I was going through the back shed and I found a Rupert the Bear annual book from 1968. He’d be sixty now!
“I did a whole series of Rupert going through a mid-life crisis, thinking about his life and whether he made the right choices. It’s been very well received. He’s got a walking stick now!”
Baines now has more than 70 exhibitions under his belt. His artwork can be found in Adelaide businesses, Government House, the Australian Embassy, Singapore and Malaysia.
“From the word go, I was painting these quirky beach scenes and I was having sell-out exhibitions 15-20 years ago, but when I started incorporating surrealism, putting cows and suited men in the sea, this whole new level of appreciation came,” he says.
Asked where he finds his inspiration, Baines says his own mortality motivates him to seize every opportunity.
“It’s laughing in the face of death. I always think about death; I don’t know why.
“I try to make the most of every moment and do things that are a bit quirky and not take things so serious, but underneath it is serious.
“I had a few crises; I went through the GFC and had family issues. You start to look at things differently and that leaked into my art. I work for lots of charities and things like that because I want to give back and that seems to be a good way to balance things up.”
Baines’ new book Museum of the Mind – which he says can be described as a hard copy of his Twitter account, complete with high-resolution artwork and quirky quotes inspired by the workings of his mind – will also be officially launched this weekend.
“It’s sold out in Adelaide three times already and the beauty of it is, it’s got Malcolm Turnbull and our Governor in there.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Baines is now planning another live cow installation at a beach on the Gold Coast in June this year.
Surreality Bites opens tonight, March 18, at BMG Art on South Road, Marleston, and will continue until April 9.