Alan D Baker | Art Was His Life

Mid-20th Century Sydney painter Alan Douglas Baker was born in New South Wales (NSW) in 1914. Baker was the third child of Pearl and Henry Baker of Ashfield, Sydney. The family recognised that he showed the same talents as his brother Normand and; at 13 years of age, during his days at Canterbury Boys High, he enrolled to study drawing at J.S. Watkins Art School. He left Canterbury High two years later to become a full-time art student. The Watkins school was a fertile ground for nurturing young talent because of its competitive stimulus of senior students such as Henry Hanke, Normand Baker (his brother) and William Pidgen; who were all Archibald Prize winners.  Great emphasis was placed on tonal drawing in pencil charcoal, pen and washes.

Baker became a commercial artist and did posters and advertisement sheets for Tooth’s Brewery where he used himself and members of his family to pose for the ads. One important commission from Tooth’s was to decorate with paintings, the dining rooms of some prestigious hotels such as the Greengate Hotel Killara, Mansion’s Hotel Kings Cross, The Great Southern Hotel Newcastle; and The Cecil, at Cronulla.

  • An exhibition of Australian Poster Art at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum featured many of Baker’s works and also in two books on Pub Art.

Baker became a teacher of life drawing at the J.S. Watkins School prior to World War II when he served with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF), in New Guinea from 1943 – 1945. They had no positions as a War Artist so Baker served with the Small Craft (Boats) Division, where he painted portraits of many of the New Guineans and fellow army officers.

After returning from war service, Baker married in 1946 and settled at Moorebank, on the Georges River, NSW. Tragically, in 1961, the elder two of their three sons were drowned in a boating accident on the Georges River, as one boy tried to save the other. Soon afterwards, the family moved to The Oaks, (NSW) from 1961-1987. It was here that Baker built a house, studio, gallery and framing workshop on 6 acres, which had been a eucalyptus forest belonging to the original Faulding estate. Baker cleared about 3 acres for gardens, fruit trees and ponds. The garden was a rich source for flowers which he used in his still life and floral subject paintings, for which Baker is best known for.

  • In 1970 Baker commenced tutoring an informal art group in Camden. He encouraged his pupils to have exhibitions. Many have become professional artists, including his son Gary.

Baker was a Fellow and Vice President of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales and on its Council for many years. He was also a trustee of the Marshall Bequest at the New South Wales Art Gallery. Baker’s works are represented in the New South Wales Art Gallery, the National Gallery Canberra, Queensland Institute of Technology, the Hinton Collection at Armidale, and many private and public collections.

 Alan Baker died in 1987.

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Source: McCulloch, Alan. Encyclopedia of Australian Art. Hutchinson: Richmond, 1977.
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