All posts by Catherine Young Bates


During my days of writing as an art critic it was so easy to spot the many artists who were chasing careers instead of focussing on growing their talents. It was a trap I determined to avoid, and one which I perhaps just couldn’t help but avoid, given my predilections and background of loving art in a wide context.

The artist John Fox once asked me what I got from my early years of art history, and I answered in one word, standards. Fine, but then it’s a slower go to make it in the art world since fashions and standards are not the same. My career has lagged somewhat behind my talent, partly because of my attitude towards standards, and partly because of a severe hearing disability (I now have a cochlear implant, which is an immense help.) It has meant a certain endurance, now paying off in the growing recognition for my work.


As of March 2015 my studio is a 1300 square foot rented room in the same Montreal commercial building that I have been in for several years, on the main floor, so I can now do without using freight elevators. It’s big, but with two exhibitions out at galleries, there’s space on the shelves. I like painting there, have settled in well, and have prepared the most recent exhibit there.

Concurrent with the physical studio changes are thoughts about the changing role of the artist, since much work now has to be spent on the internet, on photography, on transport, etc. The role of artist is shifting. I am now rearranging the studio to be a better organized production centre for me to work in, with more thought about getting help for what happens to the works afterwards. I need to hire a studio assistant more regularly for preparation of canvases, exhibition arrangements, internet work, etc. The studio must remain a place of painting creativity first and foremost, since nothing can happen without a steady production. The studio is basic. I am happy that I have moved mine to a larger and more convenient location. Priorities I hear!


Art galleries are having a tough time these days. My sales are staying infrequent but steady, as they always have in tough times. My work maintains a certain independence from the fashions of the art market. I appreciate sales – I have to pay by myself for my high costs of studio and materials! But are more exhibitions the way to make sales?

Art galleries manage the promotion and sales of work, and take a commission for doing so. Good galleries earn those commissions and I have no qualms about sharing profits with them, because good gallery directors love art as well as money, and are in tandem with their artists who are in the same boat; we all work in a larger context than pure business.

But the art world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, an ironic thing to write, since big art fairs have been growing in number. I guess they’re doing OK. But small local exhibits are questionable in a world of seeming economic contraction. And the internet can get the images across, if not the feel of the actual work. So the question remains, Why Exhibit?


Using words as art has a very long tradition – try the Egyptians for starters and then go back in history! Modern users include Christopher Wool, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Jasper Johns, Greg Curnoe, and many others. It seems to be a bit of a fashion these days. I’m interested in using words because I’ve already liked doing it for years, and I used to write as an art critic, a job I loved except that it ate too much into painting time. I’ve published my poems and drawings in a book called Counterpane. I continue to make lists and memo headings with drawn letters of the alphabet, in my own style with capital letters. I’ve recently been drawing short statements on small pieces of good paper and painting them and their surrounds with gouache. The first one simply said HAVE SOME FUN, and was a release from the serious art world, whose demands have to be constantly avoided. Making it was so much fun that I am continuing this series.

Now I’m collecting short statements about art and also about the state of the world as I see it, and despite the serious content I am having even more fun combining lettering/painting with pithy phrases. They seem to be staying a small size for the moment, though perhaps I might find an interesting reason for doing them larger, other than the silly fact that large paintings are thought to be more important and of course sell for more money. More words per painting might be one reason for working larger, though my writing experience suggests brevity. I’ll just see how it goes!


I paint landscapes to make implied spaces that I can look into for distance, and with surfaces up close that I can feel myself touching. The subject is what provides visual distance, and drawing through the paint shows the close creative process. It’s both distance and proximity. I can see the subject; I can feel the process.

I hold strong to the importance of painting landscapes. I like larger vistas than we can see in our constructed cities, and I love the process of making paintings. Drawing through the paint is a creative activity, but it can also be interpreted as a destructive one as well, by changing the surface violently. And I do see us as destroying our world!

I see distances. I touch paint surfaces. I hear the weather of landscapes – wind, rain, thunder, etc. I feel the heat of the sun, etc. I smell the weather, etc. I taste the fruit on trees or growing in fields. Landscape painting requires using all five senses, in concept and in process. The sixth sense seems like extrasensory perception, the mind putting the other five senses to work.

Why paint at all is another subject!


DSC04473The acts of painting and drawing are inseparable for me. The surfaces may change from canvas to paper, colours from black to a variety of colours, but the act of drawing is always visible.

Sometimes I draw directly on the surface, other times I draw into a surface which has the paint already applied to it. I work this way because the actions of painting and drawing are physically very important to me, whatever the subject might be. The actions of working heighten my awareness and control of my body, which I see as an instrument of expression and perception. I think this is why viewers often comment on the energy shown in my works.

I paint landscapes because I see them around me, because the land supports us and feeds us. I make still life paintings because I love the shapes of hand-made containers and the simplicity of grouped fruit, vases, and flowers. I sense the energy of the landscape and still life groupings and work to keep that energy visible in my paintings and drawings.


The annual spring sketching trip to Charlevoix was a renewal for me! In Montreal I’m committed to my background as teacher at Dawson, occupant of a large studio, attender of many vernissages, acquaintance of many artists, researcher of art books and critiques. These groups/activities foster knowledge about the art world, but the Charlevoix painters paint together, which is unique. There is something very special about a long-established art group painting plein air. They are all supportive of each other. And we all feel that we learn something from the experience, and that’s far more important than the canvases we take home with us!

DSC04294For me, this trip was a push towards uniting my observations with my feelings for necessarily more abstract compositions. Making a preliminary sketch to help me find the composition proved immensely helpful, but it happened not because I forced the composition but because I just started the ink drawing and gradually found, in the process, the composition. Then, working largely from the sketch, but with the scene there for reference, and with the irreplaceable push from the physical specifics of being out of doors in April, I could work on the painting and let the painting itself develop, not just the scene. I am quite thrilled with the way it went.

I can’t always see in my finished paintings what I have accomplished, at least not immediately (and I don’t understand why this is), and it’s great to have the positive response of the others in the group. The gallery owner in Magog saw the works on my way back to Montreal, liked them very much, using the word “superbe” to describe the 16×20” on which I scrambled the thick paint into a “feeling” about the scene.