Gareth Bate is genial and easy to talk to and thinks Nuit Blanche is “actually a lot of fun.” Could he possibly be a real artist? His trippily beautiful, Buddhist-ish exhibit in the Gladstone Hotel’s annual Come Up to My Room alternative design show says yes, and so does all the mystical, multidisciplinary work that led up to it.
“Quite a lot of my work has used religious metaphors in a non-religious way,” says Bate. “I’m attracted to imagery and to ritual, although I’m not religious myself. This project is based on the Buddhist idea that the universe is a net of jewels; each jewel is an individual and the facets of the jewels reflect all the other jewels.”
In Bate’s work, jewels become mirrors, handpainted with 325 (so far) portraits of people you (or someone who’s better at Jeopardy) can recognize. People “good” (Terry Fox) and “evil” (Robert Pickton, Hitler). People beautiful and not, people genius and freakish.
“The hope is that everybody–that you can see yourself in everyone else. It’s a place of reflection.”
Bate often turns his sunshiny studio into Gareth Bate Art Projects. On the wall, you can see paintings from his new Floating World series. Also: He found this red velvet cupcake of a couch in the hallway at 401 Richmond and refuses to sell it to us.
Although Bate went to OCAD just before the painting revival made it big (he graduated in 2007), he says he’s never felt the need to defend the once-“dead” medium. “People did talk about the need to justify it in terms of contemporary art,” he concedes, “but I see it as just another medium.” It helped, presumably, that he had seminal Toronto abstractionist John Brown as a mentor.
Bate conceived his contemporary take on the Jewel Net of Indra before he was asked to participate in Come Up to My Room, and with that impetus, he pared down and refined the vision. “I was going to do photo-transfers on the mirrors,” he says, “but that would have looked awful.” Instead, he used blue, brown and white paint on each. Some portraits took an hour. Some, like Marilyn Monroe, took a month. She, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sojourner Truth are his own favourites.
How many famouses can you identify?
Here, Gareth stands in front of the installed (but not necessarily finished; he has so many more “jewels” to paint) work in Room 202 at the Gladstone. When you walk in it looks empty except for a cluster of the mirrors he has put on the wall facing the door; then you turn right, and it’s all there. He likes that surprise, and the space to step back from it.
“It’s interesting to stand here and see yourself reflected and broken up among them [the portraits] in the mirrors,” says Bate. “I’d like people to ask the question, ‘What aspects of these people are within me?’ That’s the central question. But ultimately, what they get out of it is what they get out of it.”
Sarah Nicole Prickett is the Style Editor at Toronto Standard and has never met a mirror she didn’t like. J/k! Follow her on Twitter at @xoxSNP.
With files from Dominique Lamberton.