A big-eyed figure with a troll-style shock of white hair hides behind a tree in a dark wood. A group of medieval dwarf-like creatures rows a boat obliviously as another one drowns. Identically dressed women erect a smiling canopy over a circus tent. These are just some of the bizarre creatures to be encountered in Temple Bates' work.
Hermoddities spans a decade of the Toronto artist's career, from self-published comics to her more recent oil paintings. Conundrum Press publisher Andy Brown fell in love with the introductory story years ago, a zine called Catpeeps, about creatures that are "sometimes people, sometimes cats," and eventually came to compile and release Hermoddities. The catpeeps appear in short comics and collaged in to old catalogues and mail order ads. They're only a start to the strange creatures that continued to dominate Bates' imagination, though.
"I just reread the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was one of my favourite books as a kid, and I was really surprised by the imagery in the book and how much I'd forgotten," she says. "I read that book when I was eight, and it made me think about how much of what I read when I was a kid had an influence on the work I'm making today," she says, "this imaginary world that exists in a parallel world. It's going on at the same time but you don't see it, you just kind of find it by accident."
Bates also lists Hieronymous Bosch, 15th-century Dutch painter of the phantasmagorical, as a major influence. "Whenever I feel a block I just pull out my big Bosch book," she says. Bosch's style comes through in the murkier, medieval feel of Bates' paintings, which make up the second half of the book, intricately detailed and most measuring just eight by 10 inches.
The title Hermoddities didn't represent a specific series, but a collection of various series from the last 10 years. "We went through paintings and picked ones that fit in the book and put them under the umbrella 'hermoddities,'" she says. The term is a blend of "hermetic oddities." "The word 'hermetic' has so many different meanings that seem to reverberate in my work," she says. The "hermoddities" represent close-up portraits of "characters that I see in my head or that I invent on the canvas while I'm working---most of the time it's not pre-determined, it's just part of the process---bringing out the personality of the characters."
Bates has mainly focused on painting in recent years, having mostly put aside the comics that make up much of the older work in Hermoddities. The comics include collaborations with Drue Langlois of Winnipeg's Royal Art Lodge. Both are represented now by Toronto's Katharine Mulherin gallery, but they met through the mail. "He was in this band a long time ago whose music I really liked a lot, so I just sent him a letter with some drawings and we had this mail correspondence for years." It's a typical zine-friend story---the collaborations in Hermoddities were also done through the mail.
"The main reason that I don't work more in the comic medium is that I'm more comfortable working with paint, I'm trying to eliminate the line as much as possible and drawing is so line-oriented," she explains. In preparation for publication, Bates returned to some of her older comics, and was inspired with ideas for new comics or possibly a graphic novel. Whatever it is, it's sure to inhabit the weird and wonderful space of Bates' "parallel fantasy world."