a dedicated space for curiosity

Quick ? for Matthew Budden

In Interviews > ?s For Others on 01/09/2010 at 07:32

When I look at the Baby Head paintings of Vancouver artist Matthew Budden I wonder:

Do babies enter the world as ‘blank slates’ waiting for society to mold them and leave impressions, or do they enter the world as ‘old souls’ with history and experience already behind them?

I posed the question to Mr. Budden.  Here’s what he said:


Maybe it varies from baby to baby, but the baby I raised certainly seemed like an old soul determined to follow a very particular path right from day one. However, images of babies can be thought of as something like blank slates.

Baby pictures interested me because they were so iconic and open to potential meaning. They could be painted any way the painting wanted to go. The key was to bring a baby head painting to a point where it obviously signified ‘some thing’, without thinking about it too much. Some of the painted babies are beautiful, some benign, and some bear the scars of a lifetime.

Now that the series is done I can look back and think a bit more about the unconscious impulses that may have been at work when I was painting—personal issues about fatherhood or aging, as well as bigger concerns about the wisdom of bringing a child into this world. The more horrific baby heads were almost certainly informed by images of suffering children in Northern Uganda I’d seen a couple of years before starting the series.

It may surprise you to know that when I started the Baby Head paintings I had no intention of making a comment about babies or babydom.


To view the Baby Head series in its entirety, visit Matthew Budden’s website here.

Image © Matthew Budden
  1. fascinating artwork. i now returned to it for the third time, and every time, it feels slightly different, at first rather strange, now, together with the ?+answer, it’s like philosophy in paint.
    the image also made me think of a film i recently saw, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – the story of a baby boy who is born with the appearance and physical maladies of a very elderly man, and growing up, turns younger in appearance.

  2. I really love these. This one looks like a cat too, or is that just me?

  3. Thanks for both of your comments. Glad you like them.
    Yes, there’s something cat-like happening there–which might account for the greater popularity of this baby head when I showed them. The logic seemed to be, if I was distorting the image of the baby, at least it was to conjure up something just as loveable. Another thing: I think people intuitively read this image as existing in dream-time. Of this world but not quite in it.
    (Though, in general, I would hope these paintings are too grounded to read as fantasy/fantastic images.)

  4. Isn’t that interesting. I don’t really like cats, or kittens, find them a bit creepy (sorry, cat lovers!) – so I didn’t automatically think loveable, for that. Baby Head # 1 jumped out at me too. It seems vegetable-ly. I find vegetables quite loveable though, so, maybe i’m proving your point with a different pic this time!

  5. Ha! To me, Baby #1 is a tad on the pulpy side to seem vegetablesque, though I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise one to find the wee tot residing under a cabbage leaf.
    I based that painting on a collage I’d done that drew on a Japanese portrait sculpture described as “the head of a monk…split in two to reveal the divine visage beneath”. Now I tend to think there was also more violent referent surfacing as I painted it (as mentioned above in connection with atrocities in Northern Uganda).
    My fave thing about it may be the hand.

  6. Six of Matthew Budden’s Baby Head’s have since been published in The Battered Suitcase magazine — the flagship publication of Vagabondage Press. The direct link is here:


    Congratulations Matthew!

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