Martin Truefitt-Baker is an artist of outstanding talent creating works of pure technical brilliance in his studio in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
Originally from East London, Martin moved to Wales over 40 years ago. He lives in an old stone cottage near Llangattock, Powys. A former art teacher in a Valleys secondary school, Martin has started concentrating on his own work in the last few years.
Martin’s cottage studio. Hard not to be inspired by such beautiful surroundings.
Martin was born in 1959 in Dagenham but moved to Wales over 40 years ago. He attended school at Parsloes Manor Comprehensive, Dagenham. His interest in art as a child was only slight but gained momentum in secondary school.
He took his Art exam early not wanting to concentrate on any other A levels…Zoology, Chemistry, General Studies, Economics. He thought at the time he might have ended up following a Natural Sciences career. With little or no pathways into art and design in North London, his fairly good ‘A’ level grades offered the opportunity to go to University or as he was told: “the Civil Service ”!
So Martin entered Aberystwyth University studying there from 1978-81. His course was a Visual Art BA (hons.) – a joint honours of art history and practical work.
Matin recalls:” The course was a bit of a problem…it turned out I was quite illiterate. I really struggled, my tutors despaired. I remember tutors David Tinker, Moira Vorticelli and Alistair Crawford. My final dissertation was on Edward Bawden. I was lucky to be invited to meet him in Saffron Walden, to see his studio and how he worked and we corresponded for a while. This cemented a lifelong interest in printmaking and that particular early mid-century group – Ravilious, Ardizzone, the Nash brothers etc. “
“I worked as a graphic artist/illustrator which was a bit of a non-event really. I started with a couple of books for The Welsh books council (in Welsh!) and a couple of pamphlets for a union on Health and Safety. It didn’t really click in the same way; I was maybe a bit naïve. I got into the Association of Illustrators annual exhibition (sponsored by Derwent pencils and Benson and Hedges in those days!). It was at a time when if you didn’t have an agent you couldn’t get much work. The London colleges had direct lines into the industry.
Some examples of Martin’s early graphic illustrative art
I actually worked as a dustman for most of the time. In the early 80s, you would start really early. Run round the streets collecting the bins (heavy metal bins full of ashes in those days as well) to be finished by 12 if you were lucky. Then art work in the afternoon.”
Martin next completed a post graduate teaching qualification and started teaching at a comprehensive school in the valleys in 1983.
Martin reminisces: ” I worked with some great staff and pupils and through some trying times. I became a Head of Department. It was always a very creative department with a very wide range of skills, from painting/drawing to welding to ceramics to fabric printing. My own energy and creativity became channelled towards the betterment of the school and its pupils, earning a wage and paying a mortgage etc. We had some fantastic art projects and school productions.
The influence a dedicated teacher can have on their pupils can be life lasting, Amy Goddard, herself a gifted musician, song-writer and artist recalls:” I was part of a group of friends we called “the art mob” who spent lunch hours in the art department so whether Martin Baker was my timetabled art teacher or not I always saw a lot of him. It was a fun and friendly environment and we’d often be involved in painting scenery for the latest musical or play. In the classroom he was a relaxed and fun teacher to be around but if he did need to shout at an unruly class his London accent would make an appearance and the room would come to order in a split second.
Sat at his school desk, Martin wearing a mask that Amy made.
“Martin encouraged me with my art and knew that I really wanted to do well in the subject. He could be a hard task master at times though. My GCSE mock was “B grade stuff,” so I did it again, and again, as he knew I would, until I got my A*. When it came to my A level exam he brought a chair in from home for me to use in my still life, and apparently hosted a dinner party with one garden chair because it was missing. I always remember that near the end of the painting he pointed to a section of it and said “See that? A real artist painted that !” I could have burst with pride and I got the results he’d helped me to work hard for. When I left school I stayed in touch and visited occasionally, helping again with scenery, he remained a friend and even came to my wedding with his wife, Ann. He also drew the portrait of me that is on the cover of my Secret Garden album. The work he’s producing since he retired is wonderful and so inspiring. I’ve recently got back into painting myself and he’s given me lots of encouragement. He’s been an incredibly important person in my life, not least because of the haven he and the art department provided in a scarily large and hostile school.”
Martin’s former pupil Amy Goddard. Amy’s painting ‘The Chair’.
Winding down his teaching career the school had more resources and relatively more funds than when Martin started teaching than when he finished. The subject he felt was, however, becoming ‘side-lined’, despite often having the best results in the school.
“When we lost our 6th form, the restructuring gave me a chance to leave. So I left teaching! It has taken a few years to ‘find my own voice’. It is only in the last couple of years that ideas and techniques have come together. I feel I have a lot of technical knowledge, skills, but what I do with it in the way of style and subject matter has been developing.”
So for Martin a career as a full-time artist beckoned working from his studio, an extension of the cottage where he lives just outside of Crickhowell on the Llangattock side of the river. The studio looks out across the fields towards the Usk and the Crug. There are also views of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal and Craig y Cilau, an old limestone quarry and the lovely valley below it.
Describing his current work and approach Martin states:” I have spent years involved in Art and Design and education but it is only in the last few years that I have returned to concentrating on producing my own work.
In painting local landscape I try to get a bit beyond the simple depiction of a perceived surface reality. I’m not really a plein air painter. I sometimes start a composition in situ but nearly always finish in the studio. I tend to find the poetry in what I see, when it is to some extent distilled through memory. Form colour and shape can then be pushed to hopefully make something that expresses more than surface reality. I’m a keen photographer and sketcher and these can also form the starting point of compositions.”
Just a sample of the many paintings Martin has been producing inspired by his surroundings.
“My current linocuts are mainly of Welsh wildlife in the local landscape. I’m not a great stalker/twitcher and observer of wildlife but I do see quite a bit during walks and wandering. I wouldn’t try to portray anything I haven’t seen but I have used photographs from friends who live locally, who are much better at observing and photographing than me. I imagine I am THE animal in THAT place.
Knowledge of anatomy and animal behaviour are useful to make a convincing portrayal of wildlife in its environment. Recently the wonderful local landscape, wildlife and the changing seasons have become increasingly important in my work. I am often out with my camera and sketch book looking for inspiration and images that try to express the spirit and beauty in the changing light, landscape and wildlife.”
A selection of Martin’s truly stunning lino-cut prints. This writer too produces lino-cuts but I have to say Martin’s work displays outstanding technical brilliance.
Martin’s art heroes include Blake, Turner (Constable), Palmer, Millais, Bawden, Ravilious, Nash and Ceri Richards. He states:” There’s a bit of a common thread, the development of the importance of landscape in British Art to some extent. The MAGIC! The spiritual. A painting of a tree on a hillside is enough in itself. It is beautiful and yet it can also stand for so much else.”
Martin’s art website is …. https://www.truefitt-baker.co.uk/ do visit it to view more of his fabulous art. I am also including a link to Amy Goddard’s wonderful music…. https://www.amygoddardmusic.co.uk/
Please support a new Facebook page, one of Martin’s art heroes, Eric Ravilious.
Graham Bennison, November 2020. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist