Seattle artist Joey Bates has spent the last handful of years adhering to a breakneck schedule of shows, and he's ready to slow down.I caught up with Joey during a self-imposed hiatus; he has decided to take a break from showing and spend more time exploring new directions in his work.
"I'm actually feeling really lost with what I'm doing art wise," he happily admits, "and there's something invigorating about that."
For all his professed uncertainty, Bates does not come across as someone who is feeling creatively lost, and the works in progress that adorn the walls of his workspace in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood are testaments to his steady productivity.
Seeing Bates' home studio is like opening a brand new pack of colored pencils: everything is satisfyingly uniform and perfectly laid out by color, and his drafting table seems too meticulously organized to be in actual use. But Bates in person is as precise as his paintings, and he keeps his studio organized to an extent that, like the photo shoot of a sparsely furnished modernist home, elicits a twinge of envy for a level of immaculate attention to detail that most of us will never be able to sustain.
Bates works in graphite and gouache to segment the planes of the face and figure into a series of nestled curves, creating portraits that read almost as topographic maps. He reduces the arcs of the human form into shapes that draw the eye into a constant sense of movement, and the meticulous detail of his linework is so thoroughly exacted that it gives the deceptive impression of being effortless.
His first pieces concentrated almost entirely on faces, and by honing his focus in on the minutia of his models' features, he shifted the emphasis away from his subjects as individuals and instead created psychological studies of specific expressions. Bates originally began observing the human face because of an interest in capturing variations in non-verbal communication, and his compositions are meditations on the myriad small parts that comprise the whole. His interest in expression arose from observing the ways that people communicate. "There's something universal in expressions," Bates tells me, "but there's something very much not universal in how we read them, in the way we empathize and connect with each other."
There's something universal in expressions, but there's something very much not universal in how we read them, in the way we empathize and connect with each other." -- Joey Bates
(L) Jillian, in collaboration with Shaun Kardinal; Helga, in collaboration with Amanda Fiebing