Joey Bates hangs floral paper sculptures on the wall and invites viewers to step closer and scrutinize what he has created. At first glance, the intricate details of the flowers greet the viewer’s eyes, but Joey doesn’t want them to look at his works for merely seconds and walk away. He wants them grounded in their steps, lips parted and eyes wandering, as they soak in the hidden layers of the artist’s paper sculptures; the precise cuts of the budding flowers, the wave-like forms of the paper that evokes the bloom, and the asymmetry of the entire design that makes up the allure of each handmade work.
Joey Bates is visually speaking to his viewers about his penchant for flowers and nature, but beneath the arresting paper sculptures he makes, a spring of untold stories congregates.
Paper was easily accessible and gave the work a whole new dimension that I had not considered, being a two-dimensional artist up until that point.
Born in the early 1980s, the Seattle native now resides in the Swedish countryside, a few hours outside of Gothenburg, with his own family. From early on, the young Joey was enamored by the art world. He grew up watching Bob Ross paint, picking up his own brush and emulating his techniques onto the canvas. He would watch Ross and the Imagination Station with Mark Kistler on the side and draw all the time. He didn’t know then that he wanted to be in the fine arts, but from the get-go, he knew that he wanted to create for a living.
“As a kid, I ran the gamut of mediums and venues. I wanted to be an animator for a while. I was enamored with Jim Henson’s puppetry. In middle school and high school, I turned to comic books, and even made a few friends. In late high school, I became obsessed with Lucien Freud, Andrew Wyeth, and Egon Schiele and decided I wanted to be a painter.”
The artist went to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan, learned how to work with oils, and moved back to Seattle after college to paint in his room. But Joey ended up getting sick from the oils. The poison his favorite medium induced in him made him turn to drawing and watercolour instead, giving up the prized medium he loved the most.
“Eventually, I took one of my graphic line drawings and decided to translate it into layered paper. I liked the challenge of creating volume in relief. Paper was easily accessible and gave the work a whole new dimension that I had not considered, being a two-dimensional artist up until that point.” he says.
At this point, in 2007, Joey been working on cutting and patching paper like mosaics, pushing the limits of his newfound go-to medium. “When it comes to style, I am of the camp that believes it is found naturally and through experimentation. It is kind of funny how I just stumbled upon it.”
In Joey’s oeuvre, white paper dictates the primary material of his floral paper sculptures, but the artist recognizes the importance of color at times. Whenever he feels like using it or thinks it will benefit the piece in provoking the viewers’ thoughts, he injects colored paper into his works to see how light and shadow interplay and build the tension of his visual narrative.
“A curator that I worked with a few years ago asked if I could do a piece in a color similar to Yves Klein’s blue and I gave it a shot using Liquitex’s Cobalt Blue Hue. It takes four passes of paint for that blue to take and be even, I’m really happy with how they have been received.” he says.
Recently, he has been open to infusing splashes of colours – such as light blue and gold – into his flowers which he believes help draw a more profound rapport from his viewers. “The paper sculptures take anywhere from weeks to months to design, cut, and build. I tend to go all in and spend as much time as needed to complete each piece.” Joey says. “They are very detailed, and I try to make most pieces without repeating flowers or elements as I would like the viewers to be able to get lost in the work upon closer inspection.”
When it comes to style, I am of the camp that believes it is found naturally and through experimentation.
Joey brings us back to some of his memorable works. Like many, the pandemic created a tough environment for the artist. His father noticed and commissioned his son out of his deep admiration for the blue-shaded sculptures he makes. Joey took it up and created a bouquet of deep blue paper sculpture for his father. Titled Explosion #15, the artist made it special by giving this particular work roots and sprouting buds. He handed it to his father who then placed the piece in his family’s home. “It was one of his favorite pieces,” Joey says. “I love the vibrancy of it, both in the color and the depth.” The artist tells us that on March 28, 2022, his father passed away in the comfort of his family’s living room. This lasting memory of this piece will always circle back to his father’s love and esteem for his son and his works.
The paper sculptures take anywhere from weeks to months to design, cut, and build. I tend to go all in and spend as much time as needed to complete each piece.
Two years ago, Joey had a breakdown after only a few clients fetched his works in two shows. The incident, coupled with the state of the world, subjected the artist to tantamount stress, affecting the way he worked and his will to work. Yet Joey was persistent and came out of his dark moment. A homage to his perseverance, he set aside working on white paper and creates sprawling black flowers enclosing laps of red, orange, and yellow paper in the middle. This is Ember, the artist’s reference to volcanic explosions and his return to the practice of paper sculptures.
“This is the first piece in which I leaned in on the reference material for colour, which is the molten lava. There is beauty in the breakdown.”
I would like the viewers to be able to get lost in the work upon closer inspection.
Standing up to the rigors of defeat and stress, Joey took a huge leap in his career when he decided to make paper sculptures full-time. As a mark of a new phase in his life, he made Explosion #1 the largest paper sculpture that he has made to date. It took him three months to finish the giant bundle of flowers, but every second he poured into the work was worth it.
“It was an exciting and scary time. Leaning into a large work that takes so much time was risky, but I was able to find a gallery to work with and they were able to find a home for it. It marked a turning point, and the construction methods were new to me. I learned a lot from this piece”
Joey admits that he sometimes finds himself taking a break to ruminate about what is he even doing. “As a business person, it has been a weird balancing act where I am constantly questioning my output and the accessibility of the work. Sometimes have been leaner than others.” he says.
He has been thinking of shifting his mediums lately, possibly returning to painting, drawing, or a mix of the two since they are more immediate than sculpture. One thing is for sure, when it comes to making, he will never throw in the towel – whether going back to the medium he dedicated his early art years to or creating a convivial atmosphere and fabled land through the intricate blossoming of his floral paper sculptures.