From Michelangelo to Matthew Bates:
An American Artist Paints a Successful Life in Florence

By Valerie Kruley ©2005

In 2000, Matt Bates made the decision of his life: to become a
professional artist. Four years later, he sold $40,000 worth of paintings.
What really makes his story surprising is that he did it all as an American
in Florence, Italy.
Bates, 35, describes his career as "something that's extra."
Most people, he says, think of art as a pastime only indulged when the
necessities are already taken care of; not something to base your life on.
Bates sees it differently.
His work includes more than just painting. Since he began his
career in the digital era, Bates takes advantage of every technology he can
- especially digital photography.
" It gives me the visual as to what maybe is already in my head," he says.
Bates takes hundreds of pictures of each subject, views them on his computer
and "meditates on the idea." He gets to know his subjects and, in works
with people, creates stories for each character. And only then does he
begin to recreate what he saw.
But his style is more than just painting a photo onto a canvas.
" Photography in itself is an incomplete science," he says.
The human eye can see much more than what develops from a photograph, he
explains. Dark areas in a photo are full of detail in real life. So
sometimes Bates returns to the site to pick up those aspects the camera
" I want it to look so real that you can come right out and touch
it," he says.
And he's succeeded. His "Botticelli e Filippino" is a perfect
example of a typical Florentine scene painted in such a way that life pours
right out of it. Bates refers to his form of art as "magic
realism," a form introduced by the Yahoo directory. He looked it up, liked
it and stuck with it.
" Realism can kind of be ugly," says Bates. "I tweak the color
of the photography. I add something to it that's not there. That's the
power of the brush."
Bates paints places mainly around Florence because "you have to
have experience of the place in order to transmit the feeling of the
place." As a result, he says, his paintings sell better outside of Italy,
where the scenes painted produce a vibrant contrast to their foreign
But he doesn't mind the fact that his painting will likely be
hung in a home of a Washingtonian instead of a Florentine. In fact, it was
at his show in Washington, D.C., last year where he had his big
" That was a stepping stone," he says. "That was getting over a
It seems that Bates made the right decision with his career, though he sees
it as more than that.
" Art is really the study of life," he says.
Bates explains that there is a huge difference between painting
and being a professional artist. Part of this difference includes devoting
most of his time either painting or promoting his work.
" It's not enough to do the work and hope that it will sell," he
So Bates taught himself how to create a website and use it to
his advantage - learning the ins and outs of cyber world. Now, if you type
'cityscapes' into the Google search engine, his website will be on page 2.

It might not mean much to the average internet user, but it means
necessary exposure for Bates.
It takes personal connections, the internet, and a lot of luck
to make it as a professional artist, he says.
But as Bates talks about his experience, it seems as if it takes
a little more than that.

Bates grew up in Washington, D.C., with two parents of artistic
backgrounds. He has been painting since he was 14 and he says not a month
has gone by since then in which he hasn't painted. But when Bates went off
to college, he was "pragmatic" and began his studies as an advertising major
- and after one semester, he threw caution to the wind.
" I dropped advertising like a stone and there I was in artschool," he says.
Bates was ready to throw in the towel after two years when he
had the opportunity to study abroad. As he scrolled down the list of
places to go, he remembered a time when his favorite professor sat his
class around in a circle and told them all to go to Florence. At the time,
Bates thought it was a mythical place, like Camelot, but when he saw
Florence on the list, he checked it off and packed up for Italy.
" I came here and everything changed and I felt at home," he
says. "Florence is so handmade that is talks to you as an artist."
He gives credit to the famous artists from the past whose work defines
Florence as inspirations to pursue art as a career.
Upon his arrival, these artists said to him, "Hey, you know
what? You're an artist. Get to work."
And that's exactly what Bates did. After a little coaching.
While working as a receptionist at a residence, he became friends with a
client who told him to quit because that was the only way he was ever going
to be a painter.
Bates let the suggestion marinate and didn't act on it at first,
thinking the man was insane. But their conversation stuck with him; he
eventually followed the advice and quit his job.
He made a "very big leap" and committed himself to art - which,
he says, is a 24/7 job. He says that before he can really get to work,
everything else has to be in order; if a pipe breaks in the bathroom, he
can't concentrate on painting until it is fixed.
It's a wonder he's finished so many paintings with such a
sensitive work ethic, but Bates is more quickly climbing the ladder of success.

And now that he's becoming more well-known, he has decided to

push his career a little further - through prints.

He has just recently signed a contract with a company who will
create prints of his work to be sold in mass at a lesser price.
" Every painting has its price," he says.
With his creations signed away, Bates still has one thing to his
" The image is mine," he says. "It's the image that has value."
What's next for him? He seems content enough to continue along
with his career as an artist and doing any other job that will help pay the
rent. But no fears - there doesn't seem to be an end anywhere in sight for
this American-Florentine artist.
" I can come up with a new painting idea just by opening my eyes," he says.
So look out, world. Here he comes!


Visit Matthew Bates Galleries: Flowers - Still Life - Cityscapes - Landscapes - Statues - Email