Artist Q&A with Keith Bayliss

Keith Bayliss is a visual artist based in Swansea. For over a decade he worked in a psychiatric hospital, followed by a role as Community Arts Officer based at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. Since 1991, as a freelance artist and arts educator, he has taught at all levels from primary school to adult learner. Throughout this time he has continued to make art, collaborate widely with poets and writers, while regularly exhibiting, facilitating and curating projects in Wales and Europe.

The present situation has not altered the making of art for me. It has sharpened its focus.”

R&J: What are you working on at the moment?


At the moment I am producing drawings. Drawing is nearly always my starting point and in this case, ink on paper. One morning, in drawing a small female figure the name Proserpina came to mind. Proserpina or Persephone was a goddess, daughter of Demeter. She is forced to spend half of the year in the Underworld, giving us Autumn and Winter and half of the year on Earth giving us Spring and Summer. She is a goddess of Life, living half the year in a place of sadness. But my Proserpina spends her time giving comfort to the Souls in that dark place. How this figure became Proserpina is a mystery to me, but really she is a continuation of subject matter I have been working on for years. So many times I realise after the event where I am going!

Proserpina sketches (work in progress) 2021


Are you an artist who prefers solitude or togetherness to thrive? Or do you need a balance of both? (Have events over the past year and ongoing situation affected you? How have you remained positive?)


Making art is for me a solitary business. It has to be. But my art is about small characters – others. A social drama. But I cannot escape the ‘togetherness’ in your question. I love to collaborate on a show, it adds a richness to the experience. In life and art there are others, but they are a small group. As far as ‘the past year’ is concerned, it cannot help but affect me. It has made me realise how precious the small and diminishing group of people are for me.

The present situation has not altered the making of art for me. It has sharpened its focus.

With collaborators Joe Bayliss & David Thomas


What are you reading, listening to, watching right now/recently?


I have just run upstairs to pick up the two books at the side of the bed. One is The Complete Essays of Michel De Montaigne. What odd collection of thoughts, memories and opinions. Among many essays are one ‘On Idleness’. One ‘On Smells’. One ‘On How we weep and laugh at the same things’. There is also one on the Usefulness of thumbs!!! Not an easy read, but strangely compelling.

The other book is a history book. A Cheese Monger’s History of the British Isles by Ted Palmer. A wonderfully informative publication marrying two subjects close to my heart and stomach.


Do you have a favourite project or piece of work of your own, or ideas you return to?


My “project”, I suppose, is to consider and it seems reconsider, a limited theme. The limited theme can be used as a criticism – I use it on me quite often! But I make images of “characters” they may be the same characters, like actors they turn up in a different guise. But I re-visit them and like the Proserpina “project” they explore or respond to some things working inside me or working on me. Chagall was criticised by one colour supplement review during his great London Retrospective for having a limited subject matter which he revisited over and over. Er…Well yes!

Yo lo fi/Fe welais i/I saw this (2019) at MoMa Machynlleth


Are there peers or an artist who you particularly identify with or whose work you relate to? What would be your dream collaboration?


Oh dear! What a question! Where do I start! Best not to. If I could, I would love to drop in on Goya at his Deaf Man’s House and have a glass of Manzanilla with him. I would take him a bottle and hope he would allow me to stay awhile and view his Black Paintings. And what of a ‘dream collaboration’? I think I have in retrospect had a few, but to revisit them here would create more of an essay, than an answer. But as I write this, Ernest Zobole came to mind. I tried to include him in the Dreaming Awake exhibition, but it was at the end part of his life and he had just lost his wife. His replies to me were very kind and courteous. I was unaware of his situation. But earlier I did manage to include him in the Intimate Portraits exhibition. I said hello to him at the opening, but never got to know him. If Zobole were here now I would love to do a small show with him. I have loved his work since I was a young man.

Ernest Zobole, 'Chair and Dog in a Room', 1967


Do you rely on a support network of friends, colleagues, for advice, feedback, exchange of ideas, critical support?


I cannot afford to rely on my colleagues. Artists should be able to ‘practice’ their art on a desert island. But who am I kidding! In retrospect I have always involved myself with a limited group of individuals who make art of some sort. They are a diminishing number of people now, who I miss so much. One ongoing (interrupted by this current situation in which we live) almost monthly event is to drop down to Glenys Cours place and eat her shortbread and drink her coffee and find myself being asked to give an impromptu ‘crit’ of her recent work! What a wonderfully terrifying honour, but worth it, for the shortbread.

Exhibition install in Brugge with Belgian artist Peter Jonckherre


What advice would you give to younger or emerging artists?


Oh dear another tricky question! I could answer this by simply saying, “Don’t listen too or be influenced by the bullshit fed to you by poor teachers, influencers, media, arty types, who do little themselves, but make a noise or a living from it”. I would just say, do as I did. Go to galleries. Look at images in a book. Look around you. Find those things that have an effect on you. Ask yourself why? There may be a way forward for you in the answer? And then just make!

"Making art is for me a solitary business".


What has been the most rewarding aspect of your practice? (education, collaboration, residencies, exhibition etc)


Education no! Collaboration yes! Residencies to some extent, Exhibition yes!

There are rewards. One for me is to ‘catch sight’ of a comment, for or against your work.

As long as it is a considered response. That can feed into your understanding of whether what you do is of any use!

Rembrandt Elsje Christiaens Hanging on a Gibbet 1664


Do you have a favourite object within a collection or museum/archive that you return to or find yourself referencing over time?


There could be another essay in this response so I will pick what comes to mind. There is a drawing, a small sketch in pencil of an image encountered by Rembrandt in the street. At first glance it is a stunningly beautiful image of a young girl. So sympathetic, so tender. You then read that this image was of a dead young girl, a criminal, the subject of a public execution. The artist has, with a few lines, taken the pin out of an emotional grenade and has literally blown the legs from under you. Art should if it is of any use, have some effect on you as you shuffle past it.


Is there something you wish you had done - or still plan to do?


Just more! And as, and when I can, I make and try to exhibit the outcome.

'Something from Nothing' (from the 'Mrs Punch' series), 2020

To purchase original prints and drawings by Keith Bayliss, please visit our online shop.

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