In the art world, Canadian conceptual artist Iain Baxter was known as an "idea-a-minute man". Jef Bourgeau, founding director of the Museum of New Art (MoNA) in Detroit explained, "Contemporary art is about ideas rather than about beauty. It's about the interaction between the artwork and the viewer." Iain Baxter maintained, "You don't always hit a home run with an idea, but you can never be wrong. Products (including deodorant, soap and toothpaste) define our lives."
David Burnett, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario observed, "He just pours out ideas and jumps from one thing to another. His mind is constantly jumping, moving, thinking, making connections." Insisting everything in life was a work of art, Iain and Elaine Baxter launched N.E. Thing Co. (as in, "anything goes") from 1965 to 1970.
Art critic Victoria Donohoe elaborated, "Iain and Elaine Baxter, like Marshall McLuhan believed it was the mission of the artist to educate the senses. If art was a way of looking at things, they wanted to convince the general population to make culture part of everyday life by altering the way things were seen. Iain Baxter wanted to pull artists out of their isolation and set them to work in everyday situations, particularly ones involving instant communications. Baxter has a deep passion for the world of instant communication."
Iain Baxter clarified, "An artist with the need to create original and radical works must first get sick and tired of all the work he sees. Only then is he left with a clear field to look into." Marshall McLuhan cautioned against using a rear-view mirror for judging what may be ahead of us, "The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future."
Iain Baxter intended to change concepts of reality rather than reality itself. Thomas Garver, one-time director of Newport Habor Art Museum remarked, "He tends to make universal applications of his visual information in such a way as to minimize the difference between reality and art as an artificial construct, the two being brought together within the realm of sensitivity and universal education."
Iain Baxter's "main interest is discovering new ways of looking at familiar objects such as the American business, with all its niches, crannies, organizational hangups, and people pigeon holes." At one time, Iain Baxter staged a 5-hour Monopoly game played with real money in a display window. Three artists were pitted against a real-estate developer and a banker.
Iain Baxter noted, "The banker and the developer ended in a tie. They worked out landing rights, which was changing the rules of the game. But that's what an entrepreneur is supposed to do." In 1977, Iain Baxter opened the Eye Scream restaurant in Vancouver. As reported, "He covered the restaurant's exterior with aluminum truck siding, served 'cubist salads' and filet mignons shaped like Volkswagens and went broke in two years."
By the 1980s, art critic John Mays reported, "The art world has shifted out from under him. For a while he was so far out that even the Europeans hadn’t caught up with him. It was outrageous, joyous work. Then the rest of the world caught up with Iain Baxter." Of his art, Iain Baxter declared, "It extends to the total environment." By 1982, Iain Baxter's art had become more conservative (or sellable / hangable).
Herbert Sigman, one-time director of the Bau-Xi gallery in Toronto told the press, "He reflects what a number of artists who were experimental in the '60s and early '70s are doing: shifting back to more conventional mediums." In 1981, Polaroid Corp commissioned Iain Baxter for a project called 'Instant America', after discovering Iain Baxter had been using Polaroid pictures in his painting work at one of his exhibitions in Europe. In one display, Iain Baxter painted green trees and hung them with Polaroid pictures of real apples.
Polaroid would subsidize Iain Baxter's 12,000 miles journey across 31 states in 40 days. Driving a Toyota camper, Iain Baxter set out on his 10-city American visit to take pictures of tourist attractions. However Iain Baxter would adopt the Polaroid-mirror technique by standing with his back toward the scenic views and photographing through his shaving mirror.
"It's like looking at something that's never been in that context before, like looking in a rear-view mirror and polishing a closer focus. It does something to normal reality that makes you focus on its point of view," Iain Baxter told the press. "Three hundred years ago I would have been a court jester or a wizard. One of the neat roles in life is inspired joker." Marshall McLuhan was convinced humor was a learning tool, "often the best guide to changing perceptions."
In November 1982, Canadian brewery, Labatt Brewing Co. hired Iain Baxter as an idea consultant after he met and told then president Sidney Oland at a Toronto dinner party what business needed was an artist's world view. "They want me to come in and talk to the president once a month or so. Just talk to him about anything on my mind. They told me, 'We need your kind of thinking,'" Iain Baxter made known at the time.
"It took me a bit of time to become aware of the complexity of this industry and for people not to feel uneasy coming to me. I'm sort of a healthy burr in the saddle. My job is to nuance the creative process and to be a catalyst for ideas. I'm here to pick people's brains and let people pick my brain." Dennis Manning, the manager of public policy for Labatt told the press, "Iain's most significant contribution has been to bring a different perspective to bear. He didn't come up through the corporate structure so he has an objectivity those who climbed the corporate ladder don't."
'Detroit Free Press' reported, "For instance, Manning credits Baxter for the design of the billboards publicizing Labatt's $1 million campaign to discourage driving after drinking. The billboards show a child and the words, 'For him' or 'For her … please don't drink and drive.'" David Manning disclosed, "A billboard message must be simple and direct. Iain is responsible for the bold look of our billboards."
Victor Murray, a professor at York University in Toronto, made the comment, "The incorporation of a resident iconoclast, responsible only for creative thinking, is very novel. It's a fascinating idea." David Burnett added, "I don't think he has been regarded seriously enough. He hasn't received the credit he really deserves for the work he's done over the last 20 years (1960s-1980s). He is a very generative influence." Iain Baxter stated, "I think I know I'm a serious artist. I just happen to be a court jester as well. Life is really just a nice space to float through and enjoy."