Creating, mixing, matching, designing, recycling and discovering. 

Trigger Magazine 

January 16, 2005 

Bates Wilson 

The Art of Alchemy and Iconography by Liberation Iannillo 

"“Metal will never wear out, I like the way it ages, I like the patina. I enjoy exploring the medium, the process of discovery, and finding new ways to satisfy myself.” 

Whether our icons are being reinterpreted like Salvador Dali’s ‘Crucifixion’ or purposely taken out of context as is the case with Andy Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Can’, with each new mutation we are reminded of something we often see and take for granted when it’s presented to us in a fresh perspective. Our most famous icon, the American flag, is one of them. They fly outside of our Post Offices and groggy school children salute them each morning but it’s not until we are attacked by terrorists or the government sends our families off to fight losing battles that we realize how much we take it for granted. It’s also artists like Bates Wilson that remind us as well. 

Bates Wilson moved from Atlanta to New York in the late 80’s to further pursue his acting career. Out of necessity he began to furnish his apartment with pieces of furniture made from discarded metal. “Wood was too hard to work with, especially in my apartment. Originally what I was making was all from recycled materials. I’d use what I could find like sheet metal or drywall beams that I would flatten out. I made some really big pieces.” 

Visiting Wilson’s studio in Dumbo I was surprised at how large some of his pieces actually are. One piece in particular, a gorgeous War Of The Worlds, pod-like TV cabinet, is about 9 feet long and stands about 5 feet high. Unfortunately it’s the size of my apartment. “Furniture is hard to sell in New York, there’s a market but I think I’d do better in LA. I think the West Coast would be more receptive to larger pieces. New York is conservative, it’s a minimal town, the spaces are small and everyone gravitates toward minimalism.” 

Aside from furniture, the other standout pieces in Wilson’s body of work are a series of American flags. “I like working with icons, taking something that people see every day and seeing how I can express something a little different with that idea. I like stars and stripes, it’s a very powerful symbol especially in our society.” Ranging in style from sleek, minimal and polished to deconstructed, involved weavings of copper shards, tubing and knurled strips of metal, they all radiate a sense of strength and power. And not unlike the original American flag, one of Wilson’s creations came to symbolize unity, strength and solidarity to a whole new generation. 

During an artist’s residency in Canada during 2001, Bates was commissioned to create an American flag. The 4’ x 5’ flag, made from aluminum and copper, was completed by the end of summer in 2001. Having lost a friend in the attacks on September 11th, Bates returned the money he was given for the commission and kept the flag. He brought it to Union Square and left it there for about a week. People visiting the makeshift memorial on 14th Street used ice picks to scribe their names and their thoughts on it. No easy feat, to some the aggressive carving may have been the only outlet they had to share their thoughts on the tragedy and vent their frustrations in a time when we all felt so helpless. After a brief trip to Chicago, Bates donated the flag to the New York Historical Society where it resides in their permanent collection.