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13 Questions: artist Bobby Baker

by Zoe Breen

19th May 2010

In 1996 artist Bobby Baker, now 59, was experiencing acute mental distress and had started to self harm. She was outraged when a doctor suggested a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. To this day she rejects the label, which deems patients untreatable, and is happy to say that she now fulfills none of the diagnostic criteria.

Her recovery started while she was attending a day centre where she resolved to create a drawing a day to chart her progress. With a 35 year career as a performance artist behind her, Bobby drew on her formal training in painting to depict her feelings and experiences as she recovered.
Bobby Baker diary drawings
Day 12 and Day 22    
Bobby's watercolours and drawings are both dark and humorous and include many portraits of herself, her family, therapists and friends. She's very excited about her new book Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me, but took a few moments out before the launch party to answer 13 Questions.

Uppermost in my mind today is ...

Biscuits for the book launch. Somebody I met is making them in the shape of my face and I'm meeting her to collect them. I do like baking but 200 biscuits on top of a heavy week is a bit ambitious.

People think I am...

I'd like people to find me and my work inspiring and helpful in their lives. I would like it particularly if people perceived me as normal. When you do unusual things and go mad people forget that you're a person.

I want to ban...

Psychiatric diagnoses, because they are a crude way of assessing individuals. In the DSM IV (a diagnostic manual for doctors) there are 37 different definitions for depression, and one of them is 'depression in remission'. Ironically, this means that private practitioners can treat people who are actually well! Diagnosis of mental health conditions is fundamentally flawed.

Not a lot of people know that I...

Never make the bed. What is secret is that I do sometimes make the bed, but on the mornings that I don't make the bed I feel very happy. I think it's rather childish but I do like it.
Bobby Baker's diary drawings
Day 444 and Day 711    

My advice for someone using creative work to recover is...

Keep at it and trust your gut feeling and don't listen to other people. Learning to take control of your life and learn about yourself are the most crucial bits. But if you even just do it in the tiniest way like making a painting, it's a fundamental bit of learning to like yourself again.

I struggle with...

Finding enough time to relax and have fun. I realise more and more that I have to programme doing nice things and be more active about it. Because I'm self-employed work tends to trickle into every inch of the week. I really like just piddling about and being with friends and family and I'd like to do more of that.

I excel at...

Shopping. I like bargains, but I like to identify where something is and then swoop in and get it. I take great pride in my speed and efficiency in the supermarket and one very nice looking old woman said 'my dear, that shopping style seems so aggressive'.

What was your first job?

At 17 I had a Saturday job at Liberty’s bookshop and I really found it boring. It was awful, I was so bad at it. I could never work out how to use the till and I was too polite to ask. I don’t think I ever sold a book.
Karren Brady
Businesswoman Karren Brady of Junior Apprentice fame     &nbsp

My ideal dinner guests would be...

Karren Brady (recently hired as one of Sir Alan Sugar's advisors in Junior Apprentice/The Apprentice). She's young to be successful and is very concerned with ethical ways of working. I just love the comedian Dawn French. I think she's very funny and I like her commitment to things. And also Jackie Kay. She's a Scottish poet, very funny and quite self-deprecating.

How do you relax?

Watching TV. I'm very into Saturday night at the moment. I really like Over The Rainbow, it's fabulous. Then there's Britain's Got Talent and Doctor Who. I get quite annoyed when we have to go out on Saturday.

Someone should invent...

A machine to force me to do things more slowly and walk upright. I was told by a physiotherapist that I had to walk in a 'stately' manner.

If I ruled the world...

I would make it essential that everybody volunteered to do good deeds a certain percentage of their time in order to benefit each other.

The future for me is...

Having more time to paint. I feel very excited about my book and just hope the pictures will help people see that families get through mental distress and that there's hope.

Bobby Baker's Daily Life

Daily Life Ltd is the disability-led organisation and registered charity through which Bobby Baker produces her work. It aims to explore, investigate, pose questions and debates, entertain, inspire and celebrate daily life and its limitations by making artworks alongside like-minded people.

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