Professor Jim Baken Retrospective in the Ryniker-Morrison Gallery by Katie Eliason

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"Leda and the Swan after da Vinci" art by Jim Baken Photo courtesy of Oliver Walker

“Leda and the Swan after da Vinci” art by Jim Baken
Photo courtesy of Oliver Walker

From Mar 1 through 18 2021, Professor Jim Baken’s art was featured in the Rykiner-Morrison Gallery located in Tech Hall. Baken explained the four series featured in the gallery included the Lookout series, the Elk series, the Clubs series, and the Smoking series. 

Baken started his Rocky career in 1990 and is retiring this year after over 30 years of teaching. Baken was raised in Red Lodge and Absarokee and went into the Navy for four years after graduating high school. 

During college, Baken took all the fun classes, including art. He stated that “because the G. I. Bill made college feel like it was free. That’s why I took all the fun classes.” After graduating from Montana State University with a degree in art education, Baken taught art for four years in public school and coached volleyball to high schoolers. 

He said, “I want to learn more, I want to know more, and I want to be a better painter.” Baken attended graduate school at the University of New Orleans, where he spent the next three years in a Masters of Fine Arts program. Later, Baken was hired at Rocky Mountain College in 1990. 

Baken explained that some of his artist inspirations include Joseph Beuys, Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo DaVinci, and Rembrandt. He said the kids he taught high school art to called him van Gogh as a nickname. 

Baken expressed that his favorite part about art is that “within the boundaries of the picture plane, I establish the rules.  I am free to be reckless, to take chances, to fail or succeed.  The whole thing is 100% mine!” 

Baken said his favorite piece of art he ever created was one he did at the beginning of his college days. He explained, “it was a little drawing of a man with a really big hand and he was able to sit in his own hand.” He believes that it was the first piece of art he had signed his name to, “it led me in the direction of art.” 

Of his students, Baken said, he’s inspired by them, and “they pump fresh energy into the room.” 

Baken described his artistic style and said “I’m an expressionist storyteller.” From his art, Baken said he wants people to “know that they have permission to be free. Free artistically.” He also said, “I want people to not feel like they have to make everything perfect.” When asked what he would like people to take away from his artwork, Baken stated “there’s a lot of ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’ in the world and I want my work to free people up so they don’t think they should do this or they have to do that.”

Professor Jim Baken with Professor Mark Moak

Professor Jim Baken with Professor Mark Moak

For materials, Baken likes to use “anything I can get my hands on.” He explained he likes to use things like watercolor, acrylic, house paint, ink, paper mache, collage, barbed wire, mud, bones, and sticks. Baken said the advice he would give to a beginning artist would be to, “just relax and don’t feel like you have to be perfect. Just do it. Whether it’s good or not.” He also said he would tell a painter, “if you want to be a painter, you gotta look at a lot of art. Be a connoisseur.” Baken said he believes everyone is an artist. He added, “I don’t believe in non-artists.”

As a final note, Baken added that “I am very, very thankful to Rocky Mountain College for allowing me to be here and be creative alongside the students for all these years.” He said, “Rocky Mountain College has been very, very good to me.” Baken wanted to make it especially clear that he is extremely thankful for the perfect partner and colleague Professor Mark Moak who retired in Spring 2020. In retirement, Baken said he wants to work on his art full-time. 

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