Graffiti is everywhere - every street corner, every mailbox, every subway station. But do you ever really take the time to look at what has been written on the walls? If you take a moment, you may just find some pretty incredible artwork. Graffiti artists and “writers” have been expressing their artistic viewpoint in the wee hours of the morning, when no one is around, and pretty quickly to avoid getting caught, for decades. One of these talented artists is the extremely anonymous Bates. He started writing in 1984 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Bates’ art is world renowned, having been asked to write in over 30 countries and five continents. You can catch a piece of his work in nearly every major city in the world. An icon and inspiration to young artists in his own right, Bates sits among some of the most elite international writers like Loomit, Mode 2, and Delta. We caught up with Bates for a little insight into his artistry, what he’s up to now, and to get his take on the evolution of graffiti.
“Graffiti spoke to me,” Bates, a Denmark native, said. He grew up drawing and painting as a child but an interest in (what else?) the Electric Boogie has played one of his largest inspirations in his style. He describes his writing style as “something that moves, dances and bends. Letters, which are the most important aspect of graffiti, need to be funky. [The] background and characters are just attraction to your name.” Bates’ style has continued to evolve throughout the years, drawing from cultural and pop culture influences to create works of art that remain on buildings, sidewalks for years. When we asked if he had a favorite piece, he modestly said, “No, I always want to get better.” Another testament to his prolific career, Bates will have his first US solo exhibition in Santa Monica, CA on April 16th at the Buckshot Gallery. The exhibition showcases pieces that embody Bates’ talent and history as a writer. Fusing classic New York graffiti with experimental European techniques, Bates’ exhibition, “California Dreamin',” is an ode to his roots as a writer, his passion for color, and his unfaltering precision. You know we will be there, but will Bates? [Editor's Note: We attended the LA exhibit; below are photographs of the work shown]
While most graffiti has become an accepted art form in our society, it wasn’t always the easiest to get away with, and the culture surrounding graffiti was risky. We asked Bates his take on the shift in perception surrounding graffiti. “In the beginning it was very naïve. Today it is a big part of our culture. Graffiti is on the streets, trains, rooftops, trucks, clothing, TV and commercials; it’s hard to think of a world before graffiti,” he said. Now graffiti artists have less risk associated with their art because of this acceptance, many artists have their own exhibitions and commissioned pieces. But even with the more recent acceptance, Bates continues to stay anonymous by keeping his identity under wraps (or hoodies). “I don’t want to be a Graffiti celebrity, I want to walk freely in the supermarket without having to sign black books. It should be my artwork that is in focus, not how I look.” He does add that he still paints illegally from time to time; once a vandal always a vandal, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
See what the Great Bates had to say when we played 21 questions below.
Wine or beer?
London or New York?
None, I like to listen to wefunkradio.com
Favorite type of food?
Food with flavor and passion.
Early bird or Night Owl?
Lee Fields, “I Still Got It.”
Black. I use that a lot in my works.
Words to live by?
Don’t worry about those who talk behind your back, they’re behind you for a reason.
How would you describe your fashion style in 3 words?
ANONYMOUS, ANONYMOUS, ANONYMOUS.
Tom and Jerry.
Most recent trip?
What are you doing on a Friday night?
With the family.
Best classic movie?
As Good As It Gets.
A city you've never been to but want to go?
Favorite article of clothing?
If you weren't an artist what would be your dream job?
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Playing with Legos.
Follow Bates on Instagram and Twitter @greatbates and Facebook
By Mischa Teichgraeber - a special wink to my former fling that introduced me to the world of graffiti
Top photograph provided by Bates
Additional photographs by Mischa Teichgraeber