‘Believe in magic’ – in conversation with artist Pearl Bates

If you’ve seen much of artist Pearl Bates’ work, her flat-come-studio looks exactly how you might imagine it would. Butterflies adorn the kitchen, surfaces are scattered with plant pots and patterned scarves, and at the back of the studio stands an enormous painting of the Brighton Pavilion. It has a neon pink background, its spires are embellished in glitter, and Pearl’s signature waifish figures stand in the foreground.

Brighton Pavilion by Pearl Bates

Pearl calls herself ‘an artist who also does some illustration’. She came to that description after much deliberation, given that her work has been heavily influenced by fashion illustration and designers of the 90s, like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. The angular cast of characters who reign supreme in Pearl’s work also square with her love of Egon Schiele, while her black and white figures evoke the art of Aubrey Beardsley.

But given the undeniable fantastical quality of her work, such influences are obviously only secondary to her primary inspiration: Pearl’s own original way of seeing the world.

‘When I was younger there was a big dollop of imagination involved’ Pearl says. ‘But as I get older, I realize that that magic and enchantment is already all around us, we just need to learn to see it’.

Whether it’s finding ‘the geometric pattern inside a single blade of grass’, or taking a moment to observe ‘the way the light shines on some bubbles in your tea’, Pearl’s way of seeing ‘poetry everywhere’ shines through her art.

‘I like to reflect the world people live in back at them’ she explains. ‘Hopefully the art goes out into the world as little reminders that there’s good stuff out there’.

Painting by Pearl

Like so many artists before her, Pearl’s ‘earliest memories are of doing drawings at the kitchen table’. She describes one memory of her father’s friend coming over, having ‘just given a lecture about the development of drawing abilities in kids’. He took one look at Pearl’s art and announced that ‘she shouldn’t be able to do this.’

In her teens she went on to study theatre design, ‘which was amazing and in actual fact, was probably much more useful to me than studying straight Fine Arts’. As she went on to work in film, theatre and opera, her grounding in ‘puppetry, creation of characters, literature, art, and costume history’ continued to influence her art.

‘I must have a kind of secret camera in my brain that photographs people when I’m walking around town’ Pearl explains, ‘I always see characters and I start to wonder who they are. I start to create stories about where they’ve come from and what they’re doing’.

While Pearl has dipped in and out of the world of theatre, her art career has remained constant, having produced work that’s featured in exhibits from New York to Zurich. As for the future, an illustrated book is already in the works.

Talking to Pearl, it quickly becomes clear that breaking down the boundaries between people and art is at the core of her work. ‘I think a lot of people feel intimidated or unsure of how to relate to art. It’s been sold as quite an exclusive thing, and if you don’t get it, it’s because you’re not clever enough’.

‘I think art is the same as music. People understand how to relate to music, and if they don’t like it,  that’s no reflection on who you are as a person. So for me, I have absolutely no issue at all if someone buys a painting because it matches the sofa. And if you buy a piece because it brings you joy and you resonate with it, then that’s everything.’

Pearl evidences how important connecting with people through her art is when she describes the pieces that she’s the most proud of. ‘A couple years ago I was commissioned to create a piece that was going to be a goodbye gift for somebody who was passing away, which I was incredibly honored to make’.

Pearl in her studio

She also references letters ‘from people who’ve said that my paintings have helped them come to terms with their sexuality’ and another written from somebody who simply said that every time she saw the piece ‘it made her feel happy’.

Ultimately, Pearl says she aims to spread the message ‘believe in magic’ through her work. ‘People get a bit confused about the word magic, It’s a difficult one to define.’

‘I think it’s more about a sense of wonder. I’d like to spark a sense of wonder in people, and help them recognize that sense of wonder comes from their own lives’.

If you’d like to find out more about Pearl’s art, find her website here.

Words by Kate Bowie

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