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New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery by Steph Bates Opens 2 May

On 2 May, a new exhibition opens at the Bethlem Gallery. Steph’s vibrant, illustrative paintings and drawings explore narrative, spontaneity, play and the challenge of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

“For a long time the disorder called the shots with my art, in what and how I could paint. Sometimes I used art to manage my symptoms, but now I DARE to approach it as having fun, making mistakes and enjoying a looser line, leading me to excitement and hope in going forward.” says Steph.

Steph’s body of work reflects the passion and humour found in her unique perspective on life. She often translates her own experiences into something new, using metaphor and allusion. Her drawings describe, in vivid detail, everyday human quirks and observations that make her audiences both laugh and sigh. She has a talent for communicating with her audiences that gives her a faithful following and enthusiastic collectors.

“Thursday’s Child has Far to Go” was the rhyme engraved on my christening mug, and certainly my obsessional thinking has led me on many an abstract journey.” Steph continues. “For a big chunk of my lifetime, OCD was a bit of a mystery (both medical and social) and was grouped together with superstition and hypochondria. With its crippling fort of fear and anxiety, it would rise and dominate and my lid would become unscrewed. This affected my confidence and my main passion - that of art, drawing and painting. Art was the thing that I loved to do above everything else, the thing that gave me joy. It was the most certain companion, although for many years this joy seemed too good to be true, like a faraway star - but one I kept hoping I’d reach.”

Despite the dominating effects of her illness Steph attended both Chelsea College of Art (now University of the Arts, Chelsea) and Bristol Polytechnic to study Graphic Design and Illustration.

Steph now feels positive about the future. “In attempting to draw anyway, I was offered the most respite of all those distractions I tried. I could, at least in part, focus on something “other” than the current, demanding thought. I used it to mange my symptoms and challenge the absolutes that come with OCD thinking. Nowadays after cognitive therapy, I DARE to think my future may be happier. When making work I give myself permission to play, use my imagination and have fun. There is the liberation of making mistakes - escaping the restrictive zone of attempted perfection; I can enjoy a looser line and celebrate my observational skills. In so doing, I abandon the obsessive and become more curious.”

Although the artist’s work is both personal and anecdotal, it draws on the traditions of western painting and print; stated influences on her work include Velazquez and Goya, but the strength of her drawing calls to mind another daring and figurative artist – Paula Rego.

Opening Event: 2 May, 3 - 6pm

Exhibition continues: 3 May - 11 June

Bethlem Gallery opening times: Wed, Thurs, Friday, 11am – 6pm

Gallery & Museum open Saturdays 5 May and 11 June. On 5 May, Steph will be running a free drawing workshop, from 2 - 4pm.