10 Questions for Britt Bates

1. You are a fifth-generation artist. When did you decide to carry on that legacy and what does it mean to you? 

I love this question because it’s not something I consciously decided to do. I’ve grown up watching the majority of my family work in the arts (painters, musicians, writers). I believe it when people say, “it’s in your blood”. I think I’ve felt a pull toward art my whole life. If I could choose one moment that was defining for me as an artist, it would be after my grandmother passed away. Going through the thousands of pieces she painted and left behind in her studio and in storage was amazing. She just painted and painted well into her 90s. I inherited some of her brushes (which I use almost exclusively). Dipping a well-worn brush, a brush with a patina that shows years and years of days spent painting, into fresh paint gives me such a strong sense of connection to her and the artists in my family who came before her. 


2. Where did you study art?

At the risk of sounding too cheesy, I think I’ve been studying art since I was little. My first 5 years were spent in Minneapolis surrounded by my family, three of my uncles, an aunt, my mom, and late-grandmother are all full-time painters. I think everyone around me was just painting, and I soaked it all in. I spent many days on the floor of my mom’s studio. She’d lay out stacks of paper and brushes, and I’d sprawl out watching her paint attempting to mimic her strokes. The sound of a watercolor brush swishing around in a glass full of water is one of the most nostalgic childhood sounds for me. 


I didn’t study art in college, I got a degree journalism so that I could write this interview without too many grammatical errors. Post-college, I‘ve taken courses at Rhode Island School of Design and The Art Institute of Chicago (where my grandmother went to art school). I think not having gone to a 4 year art school works for me. It’s part of what has allowed me to get out of my own head and just put my emotions on canvas. I never had the “right or wrong” way to paint drilled into my head. I just learned to paint what I feel by watching others do the same.


3. You are known for your limited but powerful color palette. How do you select your colors?

I’m inspired by places that I have strong connections to. If you look back at past collections you may notice the colors of New Mexico, Copenhagen, and the Cape. All places I have strong family ties to.


I like using a limited color palette because it challenges me to really work with the shapes and lines and not rely solely on color to convey my thoughts/feelings.


4. What inspired this collection of work, Say More

My work has always been about our relationships, particularly family and the generations before us.Say More is a reflection of what I think most of us experienced over the last year and a half— a shift in how we connect. I personally felt more limited in the ways I could expresses myself (i.e., not being able to hug, sit down to dinner and a long chat) but I learned to appreciate the ways we can say more with less (i.e., phone calls, handwritten cards, a text). It challenged me as an artist to think about how I can say more through my work as well.


5. What does launching this collection in Cape Cod mean to you?

The Cape is a very special place in my life. I grew up coming to New England every summer. We have albums of family photos with our toes in the Cape Cod sand. I also ended up finding a (born and raised) Cape-Coder to spend my life with. Since meeting 7 years ago, we’ve continued the family tradition and make our way to the Cape every summer.


6. This new body of work appears to be heading a new direction than your previous work. Can you explain a bit about that shift?

I think I’m truly learning to say more with less and I think that is reflected in the style of my work. This collection has felt like an evolution— an exciting shift. 


7. What do you hope viewers feel when they view your collection?

I hope viewers feel a ping of something that is meaningful to them. Maybe they find two shapes side by side that remind them of their deepest relationship, or maybe it’s something as simple as the color blue transporting them to a salty day on the Cape Cod shore.


For those who collect my work, I hope they see something new or feel a new spark every time they look at it. I think the best piece of art give you endless views.


8. What future projects do  you have in the works? 

My partner and I are working on restoring our cottage on Cape Cod (built in 1911). The cottage has played an important role in the Cape’s art and conservation communities. I hope to spend many days in the near future painting on the deck of the cottage overlooking the Great Marsh. Pulling inspiration from the endless colors and shapes. 


I also curate Artwork for the Medical University of South Carolina and will be working on growing their art collections and creating opportunities for other artists (especially underrepresented ones).


9. Where can viewers see more of your work?

Well Charlotte Russell Contemporary would, of course, be the best place to see my current work :) Most of my pieces are in private collections, but I do have public work in Charleston and Savannah. I always welcome visits to my studio in Charleston, South Carolina and my website brittbates.com.


10. I am always curious about what art artists collect. What is your favorite work in your collection by another artist?

This is the hardest questions of them all! Every piece in our home was created by someone with whom we have a deep relationships with (family members or artists friends). I have some amazing pieces of my mother’s and late-grandmother’s, but the piece that is most special to me is a small painting one of my uncle’s did. It’s a painting of my grandmother’s art supplies. It was a fun little painting he did while they were painting together one day. I’m sure it was never meant to be as cherished as it is, but I absolutely love it. It sits above my art supplies in my studio and brings me so much joy. 

July 26, 2021