Featuring Tim Bavington
Tim Bavington is walking around his downtown apartment on a Wednesday evening talking about a fake Ed Ruscha textual painting he made in graduate school, a minimalist work that hangs on a wall between his kitchen and living room and reads, “Some of us would say that it is wrong to be primarily interested in ourselves.”
He returns to the room carrying a book by late philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and shares his intrigue in learning that the book contains the saying in the Ruscha work. He’d originally read Krishnamurti’s phrase in a spiritual pursuit and only rediscovered it later when revisiting the book. But it makes sense. The idea of Eastern thought in Western art is what brought the British-born Bavington into painting as a hobby while studying design at the ArtCenter College of Design in California. It’s lived in his works since, vibrant striped paintings connecting music with color in songs that range from early British punk rock to jazz to American contemporary ballads. His paintings, visually alive, are also calmingly Zen. They live in collections in museums, corporations and homes. Bavington is inarguably one of the more celebrated and successful artists living in Las Vegas in terms of a career in fine art beyond Vegas, even though he says, “We’re out here in the sticks in terms of the art world.”
He originally moved to Las Vegas to be with his father who passed after Bavington received his MFA from UNLV during the Dave Hickey years and stuck around. A resident since the 1990s who now lives above his studio on First Street and Hoover Avenue in the Arts District, his public sculpture “Pipe Dream” is the centerpiece of Symphony Park and Bavington has attested humorously that he may have even been conceived in Las Vegas having been born nine months after his parents’ Vegas vacation.
Q. We’re not far from your Aaron Copland-inspired sculpture at Symphony Park. How has it been for you to have your work in the public realm?
It’s been amazing. It’s been a constant backdrop for photographs since it opened. It’s really cool because then it feels like a contribution to the community. It makes a wonderful backdrop.
Q. It’s not often you hear an artist refer to their work as a background piece.
Art is more often than not in the background. It’s peripheral and we live our lives amongst it.
Q. That was your first public sculpture. How did that come about?
They initially asked me to do a mural on a wall that would hide dressing rooms and amenities to the outside area. I proposed this as three-dimensional. I would be able to create something more visually interesting, something sustainable.
Q. Then came your mural on Emergency Arts with artist Sush Machida. Were you sad to see it painted over this year?
It was really fun to do something that was designed to be temporary. Artists sort of live with the spirit of change. In Las Vegas we blow things up. “It’s been up long enough. Take it down.” It was covered by a piece by Shepard Fairey. That’s a top name covering up your work.
Q. In what way does living here affect your work?
Las Vegas is great because of the permissive atmosphere. That’s a great artistic environment because I give myself permission to do this and feel like I’m free to do it.
Q. Had you thought about leaving after your father died?
I didn’t. I had a studio. I ended up marrying a native, had kids. We ended up living in a mid-century modern house and it was cheap to live here. I got a studio outside the house when I got a big commission and needed the space.
Q. That was an enormous studio. What brought you to this corner?
I was looking for a new space. I was about to start teaching at UNLV and was going to downsize. I found this and it’s smaller.
Q. What have you learned from teaching?
It’s made me think about still life. Among the genus of painting, still life is the bottom of the ladder and the most accessible. It’s considered one of the lowest genres of painting. It’s a great thing to address. It’s no less a thing because it’s the bottom. If you’re looking low at it, you’re a snob. I love the humility. The lowly. It’s very Zen. Until I taught, I hadn’t thought about that genre.
Q. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Maybe. As an artist. I put into my work something I aspire to be. A good painting is a moment of Zen. I’m much more neurotic than the work. You find that calmness if you’re mindful enough. Painting is that way. I’m not going to go off and live in the mountains, so how do you live a modern life? You’ve got to find a way to live spiritually.
Q. New home, new studio. You’ve been through a lot of changes. What inspired that?
I had a battle with alcoholism. I struggled unbelievably. I’ve been sober for two years and I’m much better for it. Sobriety in Las Vegas is quite amazing. You’d think it’s a terrible place to be sober, but it’s great. There are 900 meetings a week in Las Vegas. I go to a meeting every day.
Q. How has it affected you?
At least I’m on the right path. There’s no question it’s a turnaround. Like everybody, I’m broken, but I’m happy that I’m on this path.
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Q. How does spirituality factor into your work?
The spirituality of Zen as it found its way into Western painting is what started me in painting. I saw a John McLaughlin retrospective at Laguna Art Museum. He was fascinated with Japanese painting and Eastern thought, and there was a Zen garden at Laguna for John’s exhibit.
Q. How did you get started in matching color to musical works?
I was naming paintings after songs. I wondered what it would be like to paint a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo as an abstract. I liked the connection between originally titling an abstract a name of a song and eventually becoming more connected to the song.
Q. In what way has it evolved?
In some ways, not much. There are some things that didn’t bear fruit. There are things artists do that never see the light of day. There are a couple of things I’ve gotten ribbed about. Having done this awhile and doing a lot of music you see a lot of structure. Coltrane and Hendrix, translations of their music look like there are no rules at play. I really liked what I got out of it and it made sense to me. Somebody described my paintings as psychedelic bar codes. I’ve thought of them at times as painting a Zen garden.
Q. With your paintings are you listening to the pieces and going from there?
I’m not listening at all. It all comes from the score. It’s become a practice where we’re looking at sheet music and a printed score and what it looks like.
Q. That can be challenging. We’re still not sure how Bach would have performed his own work. How do you handle that?
Dave (Hickey) and I have this favorite, Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love.” It’s a guitar solo with fuzz on it. It’s a fuzzy distorted guitar solo on a ’70s ballad. It’s amazing. You can find a score, but not the guitar solo. It’s simplified. The indication of what it would sound like is not on the paper. It’s really luck. We found a video of a guy playing that solo and worked with it that way. Nicole (my studio assistant) played violin for 10 years and she’s really good. I had her write the transcription.
Q. You say you’ve taken some ribbing for some of your works. Any regrets?
No. They were just hanging in my studio. I look at it as a practice anyway. Life as a painter and choosing it as your vocation, it’s really a practice not really a drive to conclusion. Dave describes it as you’re doing the work of art.