Making Waves

For Kelcey Bates, things are going swimmingly

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Last summer, Kelcey Bates escaped from Alcatraz. While it’s true the Bellingham artist was swimming away from the former island prison as part of the annual “Alcatraz Classic”—and will do so again Sept. 28 in San Francisco—that doesn’t change the fact that she was a being a badass athlete while doing something she’s passionate about.

When Bates’ series of paintings about her love of swimming opens Sept. 6 during the Bellingham Art Walk at the Bagelry, she’ll be on hand to answer questions about what creating art and treading water have in common—and fill you in on what it’s like to live on a 42-foot sailboat with the man you love and a yellow lab.

Cascadia Weekly: You’ve mentioned the series of paintings you’ve dedicated to swimming are going to bring awareness to “our bay, lakes and open water everywhere.” How?
Kelcey Bates: I hope I am going to start conversations. Whenever I am getting out of Bellingham Bay after a swim, there is always someone there to ask questions. That starts conversations, and painting the water and having the chance to show my paintings hopefully will bring more curiosity.

CW: Do you realize you’re showing the exhibit in the midst of Whatcom Water Weeks (happening Sept. 7-22 throughout Whatcom County)? Was that intentional?
KB: I had no idea. How cool is that?

CW: How long have you lived on a sailboat? Can you paint there?
KB: We have lived aboard only six months, but it’s our dream come true. I do some painting on the boat, but mostly I paint in my studio out in the county at our cabin—and I also paint with Trish Harding at Studio UFO when I can.

CW: Swimming, much like art, requires confidence and patience. What else do you think the two endeavors have in common?
KB: Solitude and excitement.

CW: Tell me a little more about this swimming from Alcatraz thing.
KB: A dear friend of mine was taking on this huge personal campaign, and this was one part of it. At the last minute, her support person bailed on her, so I said I would escort her on her adventure. When I mentioned it to my husband he said, “Why don’t you just swim it with her? You’re a mermaid!” I had been swimming up in Birch Bay and having a blast, so I went.

CW: What exactly was it about swimming that drew you to pursue it in a more vigorous manner?
KB: Standing up to a body of water and thinking, “Wow. How far will I go? What’s out there?”

CW: What are you hoping people take away from your exhibit?
KB: I just want to share my love of swimming and the joy the water brings me. I think my husband is right—I am a mermaid and part fish. I love everything about it. I am also concerned about the coal trains and oil tankers in our waters and all waters. I would like to see more people out in the water. If more people spent time in the water, more people would be concerned and involved in keeping it healthy.

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