Pat Martin Bates

Pat Martin Bates is one of our best-loved artists. She was an inspiring teacher at UVic, a Limner, a founder of what became XChanges, the soul of the Community Arts Council and much else. In recent years she has been the subject of two major shows at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. A book of childhood reminiscences, titled It is I, Patricia (Hedgerow Press, 2010) was followed by a monograph by Pat Bovey, Pat Martin Bates: Balancing on a Thread (Frontenac House, 2014).

I visited Bates recently in her Oak Bay home. Among myriad artworks we stopped to examine a pierced and embossed “unique estampille print” titled Empiry of the Silent White Rounds in a Moon-Changing Time. 

Clearly her theme is alchemy. “The moon doesn’t change into gold,” Bates reminded me, “but in a lifetime you are changing yourself into gold.” This print was shown at Galerie La June in Paris in 1968. “It was written up in Elle Magazine,” she mused. “It’s made on old old French paper and is extremely delicate.” The shapes of alchemy beakers are impressed into the paper, and a square symbol stands for salt. “All the dots have a meaning,“ she chuckled, “but I won’t tell you what it is.”

We leafed through the catalogue of the 10th International Biennale of Prints in Fredrikstad, Norway in 1992. “That was beautifully, beautifully done, with artists from from Thailand to Timbuctu.  I exhibited in every one [of the ten]. They gave me a gold medal. I was so astonished.”

She recalled the Fourth British International Print Biennale in Bradford in 1974: “I organized the Canadian selection there. Among the Hockneys and all, I took along Jo Manning, George Clement, Gwen Curry and Richard Yates.” Each of those was a Victoria artist. At the Joan Miro Drawing Invitational in Barcelona, Spain presented her work three years in succession, as did prestigious annuals in France, Poland and Yugoslavia. “Now, there are very few print competitions,” Bates sighed. “The way prints are now, you can print anything, and that changed the whole complexion.”

What is a print? Is it something printed, with a press and pressure? Or is it merely something reproducible? “The Canadian Painter-Etchers would not accept anything but pure etching or pure engraving – whatever it was, it had to be pure,” she explained. “The same was true of the Canadian Graphic Society. They were very stringent with their rules,” Bates noted. “For them you needed to do an edition.” Others were far more liberal. The Ljubljana Biennale of Graphic Art in Yugoslavia accepted “paper that had anything printed on it, as long as it could be rolled up and sent in a tube,” she recalled.

She took me through the stages of one of her unique prints. At first a copper plate was run through an etching press without ink, making an impression on silver Japanese paper ppasted onto French etching paper. She had glued grains of sand onto the metal plate to give the print extra texture. She then superimposed a thin plastic stencil on top of the plate and ran it

through again. Such a depth of relief is very difficult to print. “You have to pack your plate with blotters to protect the impositions, “ she cautioned.

Then came a lot of hand work. The perforating was done with different needles, ranging from tiny needles to her grandmother’s hatpin for the biggest holes. “It took me forever to do this,” she said. “If it hadn’t been taken out of my hands I’d probably still be going on like some sort of madwoman,” she sang out.. “We are mad!” 

Mad with joy, perhaps. 

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