Gareth says: “My new Cape Flora paintings are about letting go and allowing myself to just make art without ideas about what kind of an artist I am – or ought to be. There’s no political agenda, no intellectual concepts and nothing capital C contemporary blah blah. My new philosophy of art making is “I don’t give a crap.” Or perhaps the more Bhagavad Gita way of saying it – detachment from the outcome. (I love the Bhagavad Gita by the way.) Now of course I care deeply about making art. I just don’t care what imagery comes out. As they’d say on LOST – Whatever happened happened. No judgement, no expectations. The result – remarkably – is totally coherent and one of the best bodies of work I’ve done. I love these paintings.
Every year I visit North Lake – a little fishing village in Prince Edward Island. A really special place. Every night, sitting around the dining room table with my partner Graham – I’d just draw in markers. I didn’t care what happened because they didn’t matter. The results were boisterous and vibrant drawings of plants, flowers and amorphous sea creatures. It was so liberating.
I’d been working on a body of work for a year and was sick to death of it. It was stale and contrived. When I returned to Toronto – in one day – I painted over 30 paintings – a year of work! I experimented with an “automatic” approach. This meant I just launched right in with spontaneous brushwork and went wild. No conscious thought or intention. Whatever imagery emerged I just went with it.
Immediately the paintings had a raw vitality. An explosion of new life. Spring bursting out, letting go. They’re filled with vines, knots, nerves, trees, leaves, blossoms and glowing lights. A cosmic garden or tree of life. Swirls of colour and churning vortexes of tangled webs and crisscrossing vines. These elements then repeat and rearrange themselves in new ways. My intentional paintings would never have looked like this! I feel rejuvenated, like I’ve released a ton of built up tension and anxiety. Over the last few months I’ve refined these images into finished paintings without losing their initial impulse.
I now recognize that the paintings feel reminiscent of my 2015 trip to South Africa. I was born there and we left when I was six because of Apartheid. I was returning after almost two decades. In Cape Town I visited the spectacular Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden at the foot of Table Mountain. I was with my half-sister who I was meeting for the first time. The remarkable collection of local fynbos and protea plants seeped into my mind.
For me the paintings feel reminiscent of the tangled vines in the Book of Kells, the gardens in Indian Mughal miniatures, the weaving of Islamic calligraphy, microscopic photos of cells and the plant patterns of William Morris. All completely accidental – filtering into my mind over the years and bursting out now – because I finally let it.”
Gareth Bate is a Toronto artist working in painting, installation and photography. He’s the co-curator of Oakville’s World of Threads Festival of contemporary fibre/textile art. He teaches abstract painting and art history at Central Tech. He does art tours of galleries and museums called “Art World Untangled.”