Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photo by Kyle Carpenter
From his urban studio in downtown Birmingham, artist Doug Baulos creates rich and earthy installations from found objects as well as homemade textiles and pigments. The UAB Assistant Professor of Drawing has built an impressive career as a fine artist, with an upcoming show at the Kyoto Art Center in Kyoto, Japan and a current exhibit at the newly opened Shelby County Arts Center titled Root, Branch, and Star. Doug’s hand-bound books, mixed-media installations, and woven work is grounded in themes of nature, mortality, and loss but feels hauntingly fragile — beautiful with a delicate darkness. Doug shares with us his own sources of inspiration and how he hopes to inspire young artists in the south.
Doug, you aren’t a Birmingham native but you’ve called this city your home for about twenty years. What brought you to Birmingham and what keeps you here?
I grew up in rural Illinois. My dad moved to Gadsden when I was young, and I went to UAB and got my bachelor’s degree here. I moved to New Orleans for graduate school and then to Seattle for a while. I focused on my art and participated in a lot of art fairs. A friend of mine wanted help opening a shop in Mountain Brook Village in the late nineties called Hotel Brazil; it was funky and kind of off-beat. It seemed like a good fit and a good reason to move back to Birmingham.
I really love Alabama! I’m a bird nerd and a member of the Alabama Chapter of the Audubon Society. The biodiversity of our state is incredible. My process centers around sustainability, and our ecology inspires and helps facilitate my work.
I also love the community of artists here. I have the best artist friends! Last year, I had a show at The Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan curated by Dana-Marie Lemmer titled Alabama Reckoner. It was an exhibition of twelve installations portraying artists I met and befriended here — people who have inspired and collaborated with me.
That sense of community is a consistent part of your work as both an educator and artist. How have you been able to incorporate that collaborative element into your recent work?
All of the paper I use is created with fibers that I grow in my own garden or the gardens of my friends. UAB has some land where I’m able to grow and harvest plants that I use for my dyes like indigo, buckthorn, black walnut, and alkanet. And I’ve been known to collect the last little bit of wine from parties with friends to use in my dyes that need an alcohol base.
I also love working with young artists, and I visit at least fourteen high schools every year. In fact, Root, Branch, and Star at the Shelby County Arts Center involved Shelby County High School students. I worked with their art department on casting the hands for one of the larger installations. They came up with the idea of how to have the hands holding moths and creating shadows. They have an incredible art program.
What do you hope to impart in those young artists who are looking towards their future and considering a career in art? And what gaps do you see in Birmingham’s art community?
I’d like to see more creative outlets for young artists. Museums can be stratified and unrepresentative of a population that is diverse when it comes to color or sexual orientation. We need more galleries. But, even with those challenges, I want young artists to know that there is absolutely a place for them, and that it is entirely possible to have a rewarding art career here in Alabama.