Simon Bayliss is an artist and curator based in the South West of England. He is primarily a painter but also writes for art journals including Nom de Strip and works as an assistant at artist-led studio and gallery space Karst in Plymouth.
Bayliss’ will debut his first exhibition as curator at Karst on 31 October 2013, along with his friend and fellow artist Lucy Stein.
The idea for the exhibition called SS Blue Jacket, came about through personal discussions between the pair about what they felt the South West meant to them and was synonymous with – namely the sea. They were also interested in the idea of mimesis – the representation of the real world in art and literature.
With this in mind, Bayliss came across the story of SS Blue Jacket in the book Shipwreck, John Fowles, 1974 – a ship which crashed into Longships Lighthouse in 1898. Bayliss and Stein decided to use the story as a sexual metaphor i.e. the helmsman being overcome with sexual lust, steered her (the ship) toward the phallus (the lighthouse).
Bayliss and Stein decided that painting would be the main part of the show and wanted to use work which alluded to this animistic quality. As well as using some of their own pieces, Bayliss and Stein also wanted to exhibit work by Beryl Cook, Peter Lanyon and Robert Lenkiewicz, as well as Shana Moulton, Edward Stein, Merlin James and Simon Fujiwara.
Bayliss explained that these artists are all related to the South West and particularly with Cook, Lanyon and Lenkiewicz were/are considered rebellious outsiders who pushed traditional artistic boundaries in their work. All the pieces included in the exhibition have or could be interpreted as having sexual overtones, suggest ideas about self-identity and pertain to the South West.
Although, Bayliss and Stein had some reservations about curating an exhibition which would also include their work, they decided to break with traditions. This raised some questions during the lecture with regard to self-promotion and publicity – particularly as artists such as Cook, Lanyon and Lenkiewicz are all well-known, ‘big-names’ in the South West and exhibiting with these artists could potentially raise the profile of Bayliss and Stein. Furthermore, are Bayliss and Stein presenting themselves in the same league (so to speak) as these artists? Is this kind of self-promotion a negative thing or could it be considered a little narcissistic? And why not use other local emerging artists, much like themselves?
These questions were not clearly answered, but perhaps there was some truth in the accusations thrown toward Bayliss, who at times seemed a little uncomfortable.
During the lecture Bayliss also described the curating process and highlighted the positives and negatives which came out of curating and project-managing the show.
The problems Bayliss encountered included:
- not being able to exhibit certain pieces because of security, insurance, environmental conditions, refusal, not being able to locate the work and artists dropping out.
- no funding received from the Arts Council – after applying twice.
However, there were many positives, including :
- the catalogue was designed by Bayliss’ friend and renowned graphic artist Rupert Gower-Cliff who did not charge a fee;
- Nom de Strip advertised the exhibition for free;
- Plymouth University is advertising the exhibition for free during the International Book Festival;
- the Lenkiewicz Foundation agreed to lend another piece of work because the initial requested piece could not be found by the lender;
- Lucy Stein’s gallery Gimpel Fil, London agreed to lend a Lanyon painting;
- The Elephant Trust gave funding for Stein’s film piece;
- Karst and the Museum (who have lent Cook painting) have been very helpful and supportive during the whole process.
Bayliss also discussed how he wanted the exhibition to be accessible to a wider audience and not just persons who are already involved in the arts. As well as advertising in Nom de Strip, Bayliss has also placed an advert in the Western Morning News under the Arts and Antiques section – hoping to reach a larger audience.
However, I personally feel that placing the advert in a specific arts section in the paper, is still limiting your audience.
Having said this, I think that using artists such as Cook and Lenkiewicz is a clever way of generating publicity within the South West community because these artists are already well-known – regardless of whether you are interested in the arts or not. I feel that by presenting Cook and Lenkiewicz’s work with lesser known artists, an audience who may have been initially attracted to seeing Cook or Lenkiewicz’s work only, would then be introduced to the work of other artists – possibly of whom they would not have considered or heard of previously – and this can only be a good thing.
Overall, Bayliss’ lecture was an excellent, educational and honest lecture about how he found the curating process, which left the audience with much to consider in terms of the artist as curator.