UI student shows affinity for abstract art


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He’s not Picasso. He’s not even an art major.

But University of Iowa sophomore Brian Baker can say something many young local artists can’t — he makes $100 per painting.

Baker, who turned 19 today, has sold his work at the Den, 123 E. Washington St., since April. Not only is he a shift manager at the Den, his artwork is the only original art the store sells.

A gallery of galaxies and a black and red peace sign sit among the store’s merchandise.

“A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m the artist,” said Baker, who’s been painting since middle school. “I almost have to pull out my driver’s license to prove that the name on the canvas is actually mine.”

He follows a cosmological theme for many of his paintings, often taking inspiration from nebulae.

“The nebula images are full of color, which everyone likes,” he said. “But they leave a lot of room for people to develop their own perspective. They can be whatever people want them to be.”

Because he takes pride in being a low-maintenance artist, he said, there’s no need to spend hundreds on art supplies.

“I try to save money as much as I can,” Baker said. “I buy my brushes in 10 packs, and I only buy canvases once a year. You save a lot of money by buying in bulk.”

He also relies on his creativity to save money — because easels are so expensive, he rigged up an old music stand to serve the purpose.

“Unless I told them, nobody would know the difference,” he said.

Kyle Colletier, a former coworker of Baker’s, said his close friend is not only a serious artist, he also takes his job at the Den very seriously.

“Brian’s basically second-in-command at the Den right now,” Colletier said. “He does a lot to help run that place.”

Caleb Ryun said he’s considered Baker one of his best friends ever since the two played football together at Saydel High School in Des Moines.

Though Baker participated in both football and basketball, Ryun said keeping sports, art, and school balanced wasn’t a problem, noting that Baker won “almost every award” during their senior awards ceremony.

Baker recalled having no shortage of awards that night with a laugh.

“I won a bunch of awards, and one other guy won a bunch,” he said. “It was a school thing, so of course it was mandatory. One guy’s Facebook post that day read ‘Brian and Zach, thanks for the invitation to your awards ceremony.’ ”

Baker was inducted to the Saydel Art Hall of Fame that night, and he received the Dan Fulwider Scholarship as well. The award was named in honor of one of Baker’s mentors — a basketball coach who died of colon cancer during Baker’s junior season.

Baker said he hopes to someday coach basketball. He plans to incorporate Fulwider’s initials inside of a Superman logo in one of his pieces. It’s an image he carries with him permanently as a tattoo on his right arm — honoring a mentor in his own artistic way.

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