Interview with Artist, S.T. Gately
S.T. Gately is a Massachusetts-based 2D visual artist and educator with over two decades of experience in creating and teaching art. Gately's wide-reaching style can be both serious and whimsical, ranging from realistic animal portraiture to colorful abstracts. Influenced by religious art and street art, Gately's aesthetic style is ruled by line, creating works that are both traditional and rebellious in their use of subject, medium, and style. Gately has exhibited in both solo and group shows throughout the New England area, and their artwork can be found in various locations, including the Mill District Gallery, Bistro 63 in Amherst, Quality Creations in Williamsburg, and the LAVA Center in Greenfield. As a former K-6 Art Teacher, Gately is also available for commissions and has a passion for inspiring artists of all ages and abilities to use the visual arts for creative expression.test
What was the first thing you remember drawing?
I remember my father sitting down with me and showing me how to create tight contour lines around the letters of my name. Repeating the shapes over and over until it filled the paper. We used rainbow colors. He also showed me how to break up space with lines and shapes and to fill each shape with contrasting colors. That was my first lesson in creating abstract art. I think I was three or four? My Father is not an artist or an art teacher, but I utilize those skills in my work and in my teaching. For many years, I ignored the visual arts, believing I had no talent or ability, despite driving a van around in my teen years in which I would allow strangers and friends to paint. I even led a mural revolt in my high school day student lounge and a similar one in our college lounge but didn’t believe I had any real talent or ability. It wasn’t until my first year in college did I start really paying attention to my need to express myself in the visual arts and placed value on my talents.
What inspired you to be an artist?
I wasn’t so much inspired to be an artist but it’s more like a compulsive addiction. It does not really seem like a choice to me.
Growing up, I engaged in a lot of theater, dance and music, but as I grew older, I felt more introverted and chose to express myself visually. It felt emotionally safer.
I lived with a lot of visual artists my first year in college and I think that had a big influence on me. They taught me some skills, but mainly I just could not stop painting.
We had illegally painted our common space lounge and we were about to have a meeting about how the school was going to charge everyone on the hall, even the people who didn’t participate. I was still drawing on the walls and they had to yell at me to stop.
The next year, I used oil paint for my room window, which is toxic and it caused the widow to crack, but it looked beautiful.
I’m that same artist, unable to stop unless threatened and even then….it’s debatable whether I can actually stop.
I forget who said this, but it’s something like “stop waiting around for inspiration and just put in the work.” I rarely feel “inspired”, I am usually just trying to work and evolve.
Inspiration is a bonus, not a necessity.
Is it hard to get noticed these days?
There are a few ways to get noticed, online or at local art events. Online you are competing with thousands of artists, so much so, that they seem to have started supporting each other to stimulate the algorithm. I have done a lot of gallery group shows, solo shows at restaurants, libraries, even universities. No matter what, those types of shows cost money to apply, and money to invest in your setup and time and energy. I am an artist with physical challenges, it’s not easy for me to drag all my work to a spot, set up, sit for 10 hours and break down all by myself. Usually, I don’t even break even on my application investment. Maybe I haven’t found the right venues? Most of my sales have come from friends and family or word of mouth. I get more buzz and clients from a posted photo of me going to an art show in which I was featured, than the actual show where no one showed up. I started applying to be in shows just because it looks good online, but that was before the pandemic. I am severely immunocompromised and most recently went through a year of treatment for kidney disease, so I’m not really out and about these days. Not that I was before, since I was working as a full time elementary art teacher and have chronic inflammatory arthritis in all my major joints. I really need an assistant, but I am not making enough money to support myself, I can’t afford a helper. Also, although I want my art to communicate a message and be seen, I guess my goal is not to “get noticed”, which implies notoriety or fame? I just wanna sell art and have it be valued by the client….and even if I don’t sell, it’s great if my art speaks to people at all.
What artist inspires you the most?
I really like Hannah Faith Yata. Her subject matter is so original and fantastical and her skills are beyond “on point”. I love that her work is so large as well. It’s not so much inspiration as admiration. I also really like Kehinde Wiley, Remedios Varos, Egon Schiele, Lucien Freud, Alma Woodsey, Jenny Saville and Friedensreiche Hundertwaser But, I get a lot of inspiration looking at religious art from multiple cultures as well as street art. I am very interested in the intersection between what is considered sacred and what is considered profane. I am constantly trying to blend these styles in my work. I see myself as bastardizing both genres. I create street art styles on canvas, rather than in public, so that neither genre can claim me as their own. I use street art materials such as paint markers, and mix up my supplies, but I use Galkyd, a fine art oil painting medium. I use these things in a different way for which they were intended. Galkyd is supposed to be used in small batches or glazes of oil paint and layered thinly over time to create colors that could not be created any other way….but I used it to prep my canvases into having a smooth, glass/mirror like surface, so that my paint markers are not absorbed and I am not throwing money down the drain.
What painting are you proudest of?
I know it’s silly but I am most proud of a pumpkin carving I did of an owl. I am not the most adept sculptor, but after I finished that piece, I felt like I could truly call myself an artist….after almost twenty years of practicing the visual arts.
It’s not necessarily my best piece, but it made me feel accomplished. The details were time consuming, and it turned out better than I expected. Usually, my work does not turn out the way I want and I feel as if I am settling, but this was smooth like butter. (featured below)
Do you think your environment, where you live, has an effect on the type of art you create?
Where I live has a major impact on my mood. I have created despite my location, and I am unsure whether my art would have shifted otherwise. I lived in the city for the past fifteen years and most recently I moved to a rural area. I think what affects the tone of my art more than anything is my career as an art teacher. Recently, due to illness, I resigned from being a teacher after almost twenty years of being in the education field. For the last eight years, I worked in a basement classroom with no windows or proper ventilation, teaching hundreds of students every week. Rarely, during the school year, did I have the energy to make my own art.
So, when Summer rolled around and people were going on vacation and engaging in outdoor activities, I have been wildly content to be at my easel plugging away at my latest piece. I think a lot of my work reflects my feelings about being trapped in an unfit environment in which I am not valued as highly as I should be. Since I moved, the tone of my art has changed, but I think that is due to coping with illness. As a result of being very sick, I was creating more lighthearted work, throwback 80’s stuff from my childhood that makes me smile. Trying to stay upbeat in my work helped me get through all the terrible side effects of the treatment.
For a while there, I was so sick and so busy moving, there was no art making. I go through several month periods, sometimes ten month periods without making art….but since I resigned and have not been working a regular job, I have been able to make art more regularly and that is what has really shifted. Although I fear for my financial future, I am pleased that now I can focus more on more important parts of my life, like caring for my handicapped Mother and spending time with my partner.
Is it easier for you to create if given an assignment or does it get in the way of your creativity?
It’s funny that I became an art teacher because I don’t like going to formal fine art classes. That’s why in my classroom, we did a lot of mixed media and focused on learning art history and art basics. I have found most of my formal art classes to reek of elitism. I do not like to have a constraining assignment. I create my own assignments. I am my own teacher. I create assignments for which I am interested. I have always preferred to provide my own structure. When I was teaching, I strived to be the art teacher I wish I had growing up….
Where do you think the world of visual arts culture will be like in ten years?
I really have no idea. I am not really interested in the world of fine art per se. I am much more interested in individual artists, doing their thing and making incredible work. That’s one way in which social media is amazing. Fine Art galleries are exclusive, but Instagram shows all and gives access to almost anyone. That’s the thing about street art that I value most: access. Every person should be able to access and create art. The exclusivity and snobbery surrounding it is nauseating. I should not have to pay money to go to a museum to see some amazing art, not to say that an artist should not be rightfully compensated for their work, but art should not be kept under wraps of a gallery or a museum. It is my hope that in ten years artists will be more highly valued members of society, although I feel like the likelihood of that is somewhat nil, given the direction in which human intelligence has gone in the last five years.
What was the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your visual arts career? A specific commission for a client?
I don’t really get a lot of “odd” commissions. Many of my clients request a specific animal or idea and give me freedom to create what I want in my own style. I try to incorporate the client’s preferences as much as possible, especially to avoid the client saying they don’t like something and then I have to start again. I learned the hard way about that….no, so far, I think my personal life is much weirder than my art career, but I guess that’s something to look forward to?
What projects are you working on now?
I am currently taking my works on paper and adhering them to canvas to make them hangable. I have been using oil-based paint markers to draw my own frames. As I said before, I am not really into formalized ways of presenting art, so I don’t want to invest in traditional frames. Glass in frames is a liability, they scuff easily in transportation and break in shipping. Creating a drawn “frame” has allowed my work to become more than what they were on paper.
More specifically, over the last six months, I created a series of illustrations based on popular cartoon and childhood figures from the 80’s, giving them my own spin, but mainly I was just trying to cheer myself up while still flexing my drawing skills. Even more recently, I started a series of mixed media work titled “I Don’t Recognize Myself”. With the kidney disease, I was treated with high dose steroids which caused so many side effects including hallucinations, weight gain, my voice changing…I have a list that fills about two pages….It’s one thing to not feel like yourself, it’s another when you stop looking and sounding like yourself as well. This new series addresses the isolation, pain, and alienation I have felt as a result of the treatment. Only in the past month, when I have tapered down to a manageable dose, have I been cohesive enough to express myself visually about this experience.
Last, I have been doing this series of dried/pressed flowers, painted with acrylic on canvas. I got the gardening bug a few years back and although cut bouquets of flowers are beautiful, they aren’t eco-friendly…I don’t like the idea of the bouquet’s life being in vain, so I have saved any cut flowers I have received, dried and pressed them and then adhered them to canvas with Galkyd and painted them with metallic and pearlescent paints. The process creates an abstract texture, and it preserves the nature that would have been just thrown away.
I am hoping to put all these pieces together into two or more solo exhibitions in my area, but I still have a lot to do to be fully ready to apply for solo shows. Honestly, I would rather sell out of work before I get the chance to show it in public, because as I stated earlier, I feel like actual shows are not really money makers. It’s more like, if potential clients see that you have been accepted by a gallery or institution they feel as if you are worthy enough to invest. But, I know my work is worthy enough for an investment and the hard work/time/money of putting a show together isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. I mainly want to participate in local shows so I can meet other artists and become more known in my area. Only most recently have I been feeling almost good enough to do that…