Bob Baker died suddenly at his home in Bodalla on Thursday. And the world lost an artist whose greatness was almost unknown to all but a favoured (and frustrated) few.
For while we cared deeply for Bob and his devoted wife Pat, we were exasperated by Bob’s total disregard for the kind of recognition that would bring him fame and riches if only the world could see his fabulous works.
He had always been an artist. When he was only 10 years old in his native England, Bob’s first serious work was immortalised in bronze. Thereafter he devoted himself to art. He painted, he sculpted, he exhibited and he explored. He and Pat, his life’s companion, travelled in a motorcycle to Scandinavia, to the Continent, to Picasso’s Spain and to Van Gogh’s Provence.
But in 1972 they came to Australia and in the years that followed his explorations took him to Camden, the birthplace of the Australian wool industry where he became the foundation director of the Camden Art Gallery.
The Australian landscape fascinated him and the power of his work reaped many prizes and his output from this time is to be found in private national and international collections.
But with the restlessness of the born explorer – and the total disregard for ‘business’ of the art world - he moved on from the Sydney hinterland to the tiny village of Bodalla. A heart attack meant that he was restricted in his movements; but he solved that by painting tiny landscapes from the viewpoint of our unique South Coast magpie. It took a tremendous leap of perception and technique but the result was truly magical.
That was when he exhibited in Charis and Anthony Tyrrel’s ‘Hidden Valley Gallery’ just off the Princes Highway in Bodalla and where, as the Arts Editor of The Canberra Times, I was first exposed to the magic of his work.
It was the beginning of a friendship that ripened and deepened as the new century dawned and he suddenly hurtled forward and outwards into the universe, much like the early universe itself after the Big Bang.
The landscapes and the magpies were left behind as Bob’s journey took him to the far reaches of what we fancifully call reality. And as he plunged into this world beyond worlds, he took with him as guides, some of the great physicists of our time - Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, and most recently Laurence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing.
The paintings were deeply powerful and in 2013 I was able to organise an extraordinary one man exhibition, Venture into Physics at the CSIRO’s Canberra Discovery Centre. But that was the only time that Bob bothered to present his work to the world. And , since then, unbeknown to the power brokers of Art in Australia and beyond he had been accumulating a treasure trove of stunning works in his humble garage-cum-studio.
Recently, Charis Tyrrel and I have been attempting to interest the National, State and Regional galleries in mounting an exhibition of his works. But because Bob was an ‘unknown’ without a record of big sales, we have been frustrated everywhere we turned. However, a few weeks ago, the Melbourne University’s Physics Museum suddenly took an interest in the possibility of acquiring twenty major works. And a wealthy Canberra couple indicated their interest in buying at least one for their domestic collection.
Indeed, my wife and I were heading down to Tuross and Bob was preparing for our visit when suddenly he was struck by a second heart attack that felled him on the veranda of their home. Pat’s cries brought their devoted neighbour Anne Marie, and she applied CPR until the ambulance arrived. Alas, by then it was too late.
Bob was 80 when he died; but those who are privy to that wonderland of imagination he created are determined that it will no longer ‘blush unseen, to waste its sweetness on the dessert air’. They know that his death is both an end and a beginning. For Bob Baker the artist, the best is yet to come.