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 Pat Martin Bates  (1927 - )

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Lived/Active: British Columbia/Alberta/New Brunswick / Canada      Known for: richly colored light filled monoprints, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

"Pat Martin Bates: Destinations, Navigations, Illuminations", by Robert Amos

Pat Martin Bates: Destinations, Navigations, Illuminations at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, (1040 Moss Street, 384-4101) until July 10, 2005

Morriss Printers used to close up shop an hour early on Fridays, to allow for socializing.  The printers, binders and linotype operators stayed for beer and darts in the back. In the library upstairs Dick Morriss circulated the scotch bottle among a floating crew of artists, poets and writers.

One such evening in the mid 70’s, after two hours of uproarious conversation, I found myself sitting on the bottom step beside Pat Martin Bates.  It was perhaps our first meeting, but we both agreed - we’d known each other for a long time.

Reading many of the reviews and articles which have been published about her, I realize that PMB makes many of us feel that way.  Her magic is inclusive, generous and freely offered. She is at the centre of “a sprawling, global network of dynamic individuals,” Yvonne Owens has written.  “The world is hers: her garden, her mediums, her playground, her friend.”  No net of words will ever capture her.

Last year I conducted a public interview with PMB at Painters Lodge in Campbell River.  We talked (in a tent, during a rain shower) for an hour and a half before an audience which was alternately enlightened and mystified.  To prepare, PMB and I spent two long afternoons at her Oak Bay home.  There, she treated me to a rambling discourse on a dazzling range of information and experience.  William Blake, Japanese papers, Yugoslavian refugees, the 13th century mystic poet Rumi, cabaret songs, army bases, the spatial harmonies of Arab geometry - this woman will not be corralled.

To simplify PMB is to miss the chaotic richness of her life.  She rambled on about travel and teaching, friendships and literature.  Though she escapes summary I’ll set off on a tangent across her world.  Let’s explore her relationship with colour - and its absence.

Pat Martin was born in St. John, New Brunswick on June 5, 1927. She studied at Mt. Allison University with Stanley Royle and went on to graduate from the Academie des Beaux Arts in Belgium in 1957.  Her professor there, noting her passion for strong colours, set her to work beside another student whose work was muted and sombre.  They had an effect on one another.

Her first professional show was at the Robertson Gallery in Ottawa in 1962.  Two days before the opening, a fire in the gallery destroyed all the paintings.  She set to work immediately to replace them with new work - predominantly painted in reds!

In that year her husband Al (a paymaster in the Canadian Forces, whom she married in 1948) was posted to the wintry fastness of Wainwright, Alberta.  PMB’s palette turned white.

Eileen Learoyd, writing in this newspaper, explained this whiteness another way: “After her father’s untimely death at age eight, PMB was brought up by her great aunts, who lived in an old parsonage where small windows dimmed the interior lights.  Young Pat sat and looked out on areas of winter snow, filtered by heavy lace curtains, stained glass and ivory fans.” 

In 1963 the Bates family (they have two children) came to Victoria to live on the Forces Base Properties.  Here she introduced black as a major element in her work.  She has explained this as a result of falling down a coal chute when she was a child, after which she was bedridden for six months.

“Black, for PMB, does not represent darkness,” Alma de Chantal wrote in Vie des Arts Magazine. “Still less Death.  On the contrary, it symbolizes rather a passage-way opening on light, wisdom, knowledge.”

PMB is a printmaker.  But her approach to printmaking does not involve the reproduction of drawings.  It’s more like making footprints in the snow.  There are no “editions” of a single image.  Each print is for her an opportunity to create a unique impression, an embossed low relief sculpture in paper, created with a printing press.

As interesting as these surfaces can be, they are for this artist the visible membrane between ourselves and the ineffable.  With her grandmother’s big hatpin, she pokes thousands of holes in them.  In this way she perforates the silence and lets the inner light shine forth. “Pierce the mystery,” she has said, “and discover what is on the other side of blackness.”

She places her perforated prints before a window or in a lightbox, and that homely illumination becomes a sufficient substitute for cosmic brilliance.  Or, to put it more effusively, she creates “a dazzling, winking landscape of black and white and silver.  Her prints,” to quote Eileen Learoyd again, “were shot with lacy pinpoints of light, pulsing with stars, moons and planets.  Fireflies seem to have settled on perforated prints suspended from the ceiling.”

These pinpoints of light dance in patterns approved by mystics (hexagram, circle, mandala, triangle) and by Mother Nature herself (solar flare, spiral, star).  Grommets and tiny gold wires make visible the gravity which draws the planets together, while PMB’s independent playfulness represents the chaotic randomness which keeps the stars apart.

As enthralling as these “estampille” print assemblages are, they are actually a means to something beyond. “I don’t look forward to being rewarded,” she has explained. “Art and the doing of it are their own rewards.  Art for me is a bridge to another level - a silent communication - a nutrient.”

James Purdie, writing in the Globe and Mail, explained her artwork as “a never ending exploration of the invisible shoreline where spirit laps over matter to create infinite ranks of lower forms - stars, hearts, souls and other essentials of a benign universe evolving and unfolding its wonders.”

The current exhibition, her third at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, is not presented to enhance the artist’s reputation or to forward her career.  It is offered to us as an opportunity: for our contemplation, exhilaration, and stimulation.   Open your eyes, your mind and your heart. Spend some time and prepare for illumination.

(PMB has often inscribed her creations with long titles, homemade chants and poetics.  Some of the titles of her artworks give the flavour of her intentions.)

Perforations in silence
The seven secret sounds
Chinese night train to Yangtse Kian
Garden threads beneath the sands of time and tide
Sung Chinese night and the porcelain lady’s star
Golden-ringed rock with starweb
The gold pavilion gives grace to the goddess of water that runs uphill
Signal 19: perforated northern silence of an Arctic night
Inscape sea sailor moons
Lover hover hover lover

(Upon her retirement in 1994, PMB stopped keeping up to date her vast curriculum vitae, and has devoted herself to creative pursuits ever since. I have selected some of her more colorful accomplishments to record here.)

1963 - Chilean Biennial Grand Award of Honour (Canadian group)
1963 - founding professor of University of Victoria Fine Arts Faculty
1969 - exhibited in Miro Drawing Invitational, Barcelona
1973 - Honourary Citizen, City of Victoria
1975 - elected to Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts
1975 - two-personal exhibition with Tony Urquhart shown at Canadian Cultural Centre Paris, Canada House London and Canada Gallery, New York
1978 - National Prison Arts advisory board
1981 - became a member of the Limners art group
1984 - solo show travelled to Toronto and Victoria
1985 - International Decade of Women Conference, Nairobi
1986 - gold medal, Internatial Biennial of Prints, Fredrikstad, Norway
1989 - guest of honour, Biennial of Graphic Art, Ljubliana, Yugoslavia
1990 - teaching at Banasthali University, Rajasthan, India
1990 - solo show at Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
1991 - excellence in teaching award, University of Victoria
1993 - Global Graphics Award, Biennial of prints in Holland
1994 - Honourary Doctorate, University of Victoria

Reprinted from with permission from the author, Robert Amos, an artist and writer who lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A prominent Canadian printmaker especially known for monoprints, Pat Martin Bates has been described as "the backbone behind the Victoria College of Art."  She represented her country internationally in exhibitions including the Venice Biennale and the Biennale International de gravure in Yugoslavia.  The author, Pat Bovey, who has known Bates for several decades, has been commissioned to complete a biography about her in 2010 as part of the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Of the artist, Bovey said: “Pat is not only an intellectual of great substance and depth, but a rare spirit whose life and art are cross-generational, pan Canada, pan the world.  And she never stuck to the traditional artist’s path. She followed her heart, her head, had a variety of interests, and various sources of inspiration all around the world.  The book will not be a chronology, but a look at principal and pivotal elements, philosophical underpinnings, technical conventions, and the conventions she broke.

Pat Martin Bates took her early art training at Mount Allison University and then studied at academies in Brussels, Paris and New York City.  She has an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria, where she taught for 30 years.

Described as "the high priestess of perforations in print" she creates prints that "contain thousands of piercings that make the canvases shimmer when backlit.  They feature mysterious windows and doors, views from outer and inner space, silver mandalas, sparkling profiles of surreal landscapes, starbursts and spiralling galaxies."

Her pieces are inspired by writings, images and “universal energies” from around the world and through the ages. “I’ve been fascinated with Buddhism for years and when I went to teach in India it was like a reinforcement of something I’d been born with.”

She also loves Iran and Iraq, where she delighted in the grandeur of ancient sights, swam in pools full of flowers while looking up at the stars, and ruminated on that “poor man Sisyphus who kept rolling that rock up that darn mountain.”

"She has climbed atop minarets, stood in the rigging and unfurled sails on tall ships, followed the route of Alexander the Great across Asia — and never forgot the early days when she was short on supplies for printing, and pilfered paper towels from the Royal Bank washroom. 'I ironed out the creases.' "

"Her goal is to create visual landscapes the way Paul Horn creates musical ones, and quotes her favourite Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: 'I would not paint a tree, a brook, mere semblances of things. That art is best which to the soul’s range gives no bound, something beyond the sight, something beyond the sound.' "

Source: CanWest MediaWorsk Publications Inc.

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