Greg Norton-Baker has combined his love of both music and art to create beautiful and unique guitars that look just as fantastic on show as they sound when played. FOCUS sat down with him to discuss his creative process and what gets him inspired to create these interesting pieces.
Hi Greg. How long have you been a resident of the Coffs Coast?
I first moved to the area in the 1970s, fresh out of the inner city punk scene. I arrived here with my girlfriend at the time and despite my many travels and time away, this area has been home base for me ever since. I moved here permanently 17 years ago and now get to enjoy the coast with my teenage son.
Could you tell us a little about the history of your art, and why you chose to use guitars as your medium?
Some of my earliest memories are of drawing, and the love of creating has stayed with me my whole life. A portrait I painted for my HSC toured the state in the first HSC major works exhibition in 1976. I have continued to paint, sculpt and build a variety of things over the ensuing years and have held solo exhibitions of my portraiture, abstract and landscape art.
Along with my love of artistic creation, I have played blues harmonica for around 40 years. About 10 years ago I decided I needed to challenge my grey matter by learning something new, so I decided to try guitar. There began a love affair with all things guitar, and I have gone on to purchase quite a few. I am reliably informed I have developed something known as GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome).
Are you a musician as well?
Over recent years I have started playing as a solo performer. I use the stage name of Howlin’ Norton and play very traditional Delta style slide guitar, harmonica, and a kick drum – sort of a “one man band”.
Are the guitars still functional once the art process is complete?
I am a very pragmatic sort of bloke, and I think that if an object has a function and it is to be incorporated into an artistic piece, then that function should be maintained and even enhanced if possible. The original intention of modifying guitars was purely for personal enjoyment and use. Then I realised there were more than I was likely to be able to play, and a friend suggested showing them in an exhibition. It is a great delight for me to have someone appreciate and own my creations. To know that these guitars will also go on to entertain others is truly fantastic.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I love having lots of sensory stimuli, and my workshop studio is full of artworks, music and a plethora of objects and eclectic raw materials. As with sculpting in stone or painting a portrait in oils, the shape is there already; I am just revealing its presence.
Could you tell us about the process you go through for each piece?
For the creation of a guitar I just observe the shape and then look around my workshop studio, and once one piece is in place, the rest of the pieces reveal themselves pretty readily through recognising shapes and seeing how they fit like an abstract jigsaw.
When people buy your pieces, is it usually to hang as art, or do most people buy them to play as well?
I am flattered that people seek to purchase things I have made and the guitars I have sold have all been destined for creating music, as well as being used as a decorative addition.
Do you exhibit your work locally?
The exhibition on at The Brewery in Bellingen is the first time I have shown any work in many years. Working full-time as a nurse, renovating and landscaping my home, building furniture and raising my son have been pretty consuming activities. I assure you there will be more to come though.
Where can people find your work?
I have a Facebook Page, Howlin’ Norton Guitars, and over the coming months will be populating it with guitars and other artworks.