August, 2008


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All through elementary school, I was designated the "class artist". I remember one kid asking me to draw naked ladies for him in exchange for candy. I was struck with the feeling that I was different.   But that was all I was struck by.

I began drawing horses obsessively.   They were not like regular horses, they were more like people, but they had horse heads and hooves instead of hands and feet.   They wore people clothes and went through everyday activities just like people.   The sketches began at about age 7, and  Al Holter, a friend of my mom, published them in Horsey Tales.  (Read more about Al 's press in FLIP #10)

I attended Pomona College as a sculpture major, and rediscovered my horses, this time in bronze, marble, and mixed media.   This was to be my first gallery show.

Later I attended Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, where I majored in art direction and dabbled in illustration .   It is also where I learned to discipline art.   I had, so far, had a life of unconditional "You are so talented!"'s from my family, so this was quite a difficult time. I was really broken by it. I was taught by the most harsh critics who had worked with all the best people, and I was reduced to rubble. But it became a time of the most growth.

I like to draw with ink and dipping pens most, and I love Sculpey clay.   I usually paint with acrylic or watercolors. I am way into over watering paper and watching the patterns that dry from drops of pigment.   I love chalk pastels, and dark soft graphite, because I love to smear and blend. I love the look of bronze but it was so exhausting to work with that I don't think I'd make a habit of it. I really enjoy scanning drawings, and coloring them with Photoshop brushes in lowered opacities. It gives it a nice Warhol illustration style like 'Wild Raspberries'.

I think my style over-all is more whimsical and character-focused than anything else. I try to use subtlety and emotion, so you should be able to look at a drawing and feel what the person / animal is thinking. Every character has a bit of a smirk, even the tiniest squiggle.

I also like to fake my own death and photograph it, a tradition at the end of every meeting of my dining-club. It was my fantasy, being an avid horror fan, to be brutally murdered in a kitschy horror film. Something simple like a hail of machine gun fire, or something exciting, like half turning into an alien and then being burned to death.   Carpenter's, The Thing would be my ideal.   I think gore done well is high art. I don't mean CG, I mean handmade prosthetics, make up, and pyrotechnics. Stan Winston is one of my heroes. I actually used to pause his films and take Polaroid's of the TV screen, then recreate them in Sculpey or cast them in latex. I once made a giant alien hand that I left in the basement at my parent's house for someone to one day discover. As far as I know, it's still there...   Anyway, the rules of my death pose are that they must use the materials at the location of the dining club, so some of them are less interesting than others. I think the best one I ever did was too good and had to be deleted. It was very disturbing.

I usually make art for a person. I have a hard time making things if it's not for someone. If I am making a gift or something for a cause, I can work all night and have limitless energy.

My process it pretty immediate. I usually have the entire idea in my head and I know exactly how I want it to look. All I have to do is get it there. And as with most things, it will change in the process and that will make it better: a paint drip, the wrong color, an accidental layer. I definitely start over a lot, and I use the mess-ups for wrapping paper.   (People think I make it specially to wrap their gifts in. Mwahahahah.) When it comes to a large project I will plan accordingly, make thumbnails, sketches of the composition, then write questions to myself about it.   The hardest part is starting.

I'm really into blurred colors. I love faded opacities and melancholy blue grays. I usually have an idea of what color I want to mix, but of course it never comes out quite right. I envy those who use bold colors well. For me it's usually a layering process, but I appreciate a color that is "ironic".   One that has the cache of an era; is symbolic and unique, and bold. Like a good thick tomato color, or a nice mint.

One of the most inspiring and moving things I ever saw was La Belle et le Bette by Jean Cocteau, orchestrated live by Philip Glass. The imagery was so overwhelming, it was the first time I was moved to tears. There is something so magical about the union of all creative elements.   When you enter someone's brain, and inhabit their fantasy.   That is what I feel is the most powerful thing about art, whether it be film, animation, a book, or a painting.   When I leave myself and get lost like a child.   I liken it to a drug.

One of the most inspiring artists in my life I would say is Tim Burton.   When I first saw Beetlejuice I wanted more than anything to create a world like his. Edward Gorey was also an inspiration--his alphabet of death, and his dense crosshatching. I used to wait for Mystery to come on just to see that introduction. I love Joseph Cornell for his tiny worlds. I would love to shrink into his dioramas and explore. I love Andy Warhol, his design and his colors, his stroke.  

Most of my exposure to art came from my mom (producer Carolyn Bates). She took me to shows where I met grown up friends, and every year we would go to see the experimental animation reel at CalArts.   It was like lighting a match under my seat; like if I didn't get home to start creating my own I would pee my pants. I can thank my father (Efx supervisor Nick Bates) for my broad and early exposure to great film, mostly due to his lack of discretion when it came to the ratings system.   I was proud to shock my friends with unlimited access to the beta collection.   I relished their hiding under covers at the passive ghosts of Poltergeist (animated by my mom, no less).   At the ripe age of five I had seen A Clockwork Orange, Jaws, and Apocalypse Now.   Ironically the most haunting film of my childhood was Dark Crystal.   To this day the thought of the Skeksis gives me anxiety.   A pivotal moment creatively was watching Evil Dead II with my dad.   The basement sequence, the flying eyeball cam. The dark humor was so divine. I subsumed it as a part of me.

One contemporary artist that I love and buy prints from occasionally, James Jean, has an elegant sense of darkness, and the most gorgeous delicate stroke.   Others I love: William Steig, his sketch book of cats sleeping, Kaws, Neckface, a painter that makes "primitive" devils and demons in the most hilarious way, Tex Avery (of course), Luke Chueh and his sad ironic bears. A friend of mine from college, Brendan Monroe, paints amazing amoebic worlds, with little red creatures that erode sleeping, or dying? humans. My Nana (my Korean grandma) is forever on a pedestal; an amazing artist and seamstress, with the most flawless technical skills.   Known for her Easter eggs and gorgeous bowls of ramen.   My English grandfather, on my dad's side, paints beautiful watercolor paintings with no barrier of inhibition. I think his greatest skill is his ability to see so much beauty. He's the type of person to weep at a sunset. Now I know what he can see.

I have had two gallery shows and I have sold pieces in the past, but the only thing I sell now is tee shirts.   I silk-screen them at home, and each one is unique. I have and I make tees for all my friends and family, mostly for presents, but I really enjoy creating them.

See more at Sarah's SITE!

All artwork for this article is the property of Sarah May Bates.

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