Full Time Sculptor: In the Studio with Chris Bathgate

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Chris Bathgate is a self-taught machinist sculptor and machine builder born in Baltimore, Maryland. For the past fifteen years, Bathgate has built, modified and used a variety of metalworking tools and machinery. At this point, he has assembled an elaborate machine shop of repurposed and homemade robotic and manual machine tools, along with a multitude of other unique equipment and inventions.

Bathgate’s body of work is comprised of intricately machined metal sculptures that represent the combination of his unique metalworking style with a pragmatic, logistics-based approach to engineering complex metal objects. His work illustrates that creativity alone does not drive human imagination, but that the need to solve and overcome problems also leads to inspiration. His pieces exemplify a method in which the restraints inherent to his process are used as a catalyst for his sculptural ideas, rather than serving as barriers or limitations for them.

Christopher Bathgate

He designs his sculptures by combining the math and logistics used in performing the complex tasks of modern machine work with a more emotive and aesthetic problem-solving ethic. Be it through the necessity of his process or arbitrary guidelines set by the artist himself, each work becomes a creative response to a series of mathematical and subjective visual parameters. The result is a precise and other worldly art object that exudes a creative logic all its own.

Bathgate has been featured in Make Magazine, the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, Sculptures Pacific, and Best of American Sculpture Volume II. He was awarded grants in 2007 and 2011 from the Pollack-Krasner Foundation. He has also earned recognition in his own hometown, having received the Mary Sawyers Baker Prize in 2014, a Baltimore “B” grant in 2011, and a Creative Baltimore grant in 2008. Bathgate’s works have been exhibited in a variety of museums and galleries across the United States, including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the American Craftsmanship Museum, and the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum. Bathgate’s sculptures are held in numerous private collections throughout the United States and abroad.

Bmore artist studio

Name: Chris Bathgate
Age: 34
Baltimore Neighborhood: Hamilton
Occupation/ Day Job: Full time Sculptor

Study or College Degrees: MICA Drop out (Freshman year only, 1999)

Studio Location: Basement studio

Media: Machined Metal

Favorite Tools: All of them

Currently Working On: I currently have three different pieces in development; one is a medium sized work that is nearly complete. Another is a long-term, human sized piece that I am sorting out the funding and logistics for, as it is a bit beyond the capacity of some of my equipment. And finally, I have a third, smaller work that is in the design phase, but pretty far along. I also have a bunch of sketches in various states of refinement, which of those will actually make it off the drawing board and into production is anyone’s guess.

Studio Philosophy: Work work work

Studio Frequency: a typical workweek is between 45-55 hours, but can go higher when I am in the middle of a big project.

I try to spend a little time each morning writing emails and just generally handling the business side of things. I am typically in the workshop from 8-5 every weekday and then a few more hours Saturday and/or Sunday when I can manage. In addition, I will spend an hour or two in the evenings most nights working on drawings, writing machine programs, and planning things on paper for the next days work.

Christopher Bathgate

Upcoming or Current Shows / Projects: I have work on display at GVG Contemporary in Santa Fe NM through the fall.

How’d You Start Out as an Artist: I would say my career started shortly after I dropped out of art school. College and I never got along very well and after dropping out, I lost my place to stay, and so spent a brief period of time couch surfing at friends’ houses and living out of my car. Eventually, I managed to land a steady job and rented a house with a friend of mine, which allowed me to finally refocus on my sculpture. Once I had a steady income, and a place to set up a studio, I started buying equipment one piece at a time. I set up shop in a small rusted out shed in my back yard and started welding together my earliest work. I based what I made on the tools and techniques I was trying to master, all the while researching new things that could be incrementally incorporated along the way.

I fell into a steady work routine pretty quickly. I worked 10-hour shifts, four days a week at my day job and spent every other moment I could spare on my art. But even while at my day job, I found ways to steal away extra time to work on my art. Even though I wasn’t able to be in the studio, I would use breaks and any other free moments I could invent to work on drawings, do research, and read technical guides.

Away from the day job, I was buying, and building new tools all of the time. I was making my art three full days a week, and a few partial evenings a week after work. Within a few years I had transitioned from welded sculpture to doing mostly machine work and had amassed a modest amount of tools, and equipment.

Bmore artist studio

I showed my work when ever the opportunity arose, but mostly I just concentrated on working in the studio as much as I could, I managed a schedule of 40 hours a week at my day job, and 30 hours a week in the studio for nearly a decade before I was able to sell my work frequently enough to quit my day job, which I did in early 2011. I have been working as a full time sculptor ever since.

Artist Whose Career You Covet: I’m afraid I don’t have a really good answer for this one. There are many artists whose work I enjoy, but covet is just too strong of a word for me as I think my main interests lay elsewhere.

I spend most of my time thinking about the technical aspects of creating things, working with how formalistic ideas can trigger creative insights. Most of my energy goes into reading technical manuals, researching and building tools, and thinking of ways to incorporate different processes into my sculpture. I am much more inclined to look toward engineering and the sciences for creative inspiration.

“Art about art” has never been of any interest to me, so I am just not a person with a disposition that leads me to want to be, or be like, another artist.

Christopher Bathgate

Christopher Bathgate

Artist Whose Work You Wish You Had Made: Again, this comes back to the previous question. I tend to gravitate more toward technical innovations, and hard skills. I feel they are neutral in that they provide lots of creative feedstock, but are easily appropriated into my own aesthetic without the same kind of baggage that direct artistic appropriation can bring.

So I guess I probably would have much rather invented some novel technology than having had made any particular work of art. I guess I probably should have been an engineer, aside from my machine tools, I really can’t seem to bring myself to make anything that has real functionality, I am just in love with the process and enjoy making unique objects that express this affection.

Christopher Bathgate

Advice You Wish Someone Had Given You 10 Years Ago: Mostly I wish I had just been more prudent with money. As a working artist, you quickly become attuned to the fact that money is equal to time. In order to spend time on your work, you need money. Had I not been quite as reckless with my finances in my youth, I probably could have quit my day job a few years sooner and had even more time to concentrate on my art. Discipline is everything when you work for yourself, so I wish I had learned the financial kind a little sooner.

What Motivates You: I am motivated by the constant feeling that if I am not moving forward, then I am moving backwards. For some reason there just is no standing still in my mind. This can make truly enjoying leisure activities a little tricky sometimes, but a constant sense of urgency does get you out of bed and into the shop bright and early each morning.

Christopher Bathgate

Christopher Bathgate

Bmore artist studio

Christopher Bathgate

Bmore artist studio

Christopher Bathgate

Bmore artist studio

Christopher Bathgate

Ja 552 image 8
Ja 552, image courtesy of the artist
Ja 552 image 1
Ja 552, image courtesy of the artist

This interview was conducted by Cara Ober.
All photos are by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt’s Studio Visit Series.

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