A 21st-century boy with a camera as his toy, internet-taught photographer and artist Michael Bailey Gates makes a Kim K selfie look amateur, taking self portraits to a whole new level. En route to his latest exhibition opening at Mike Weiss Gallery in New York, Michael talks muses, American folklore and Cyndi Lauper with Wonderland.
Hi Michael. Tell us a little about the new show.
It’s still in the works right now. I’m on the train on the way to the gallery. I’m painting myself gold for the performances. It’s a collaboration between me, Claire Christerson and Cameron Gray.
The launch is later tonight – excited? Do you enjoy talking about your work?
I do. It’s nice to see everyone in one place, but I get overwhelmed when there are a lot of people. I’ll be spinning a turntable for most of tonight though, so it’ll be different.
You’re from Rode Island originally. How did your surrounds influence early works?
Both my parents were science teachers, but I’ve always been really inspired by my grandmother. She used to own an antique company, and now she lives in one of the oldest houses on Cape Cod and runs a shop from her home. It has lots of props, mostly from American folklore. My work became very English at a young age from learning about antiques from her.
Sounds like a magical kind of place – did it prompt many ideas? If you can remember, what was the first photograph you took?
I started taking pictures seriously when I was 13. Pictures from that age are important to me. I have no idea – probably something very angst-y in the woods. With our generation, it’s exciting because pictures are so much a part of our lives. No one owns the medium anymore and that’s scary to older artists. It’s so physically easy to take a picture.
I like how you have a tab for “fashion” and a tab for “a real world” on your website. Is fashion not in the real world?
I sort it that way to show work I’ve made sets for and work that exists in the real world.
Everyone has at least one muse. Wonderland’s is Rose McGowan, for example. If you had to pick one, who would it be?
I really believe in the idea of a muse. A lot of my older work, when I was young, was inspired by a girl named Shannon Collins — this beautiful, very smart redhead I went to school with. After moving to NYC, I met Ally Marzella and she has been a really important person for both Claire and I when it comes to making work. I love women, I think they are very important to art-making, and life itself. For me, a muse is someone I can see living in an image I want to make. I’ve never been inspired by a man really. Every muse I have has taught me something, because they just exude intelligence.
Some people liken your work to Tim Walker’s. Thoughts?
He’s great, he’s like the Cecil Beaton of our time and I love that.
Pop quiz. What is your favourite virtue in a person?
Your most distinctive characteristic?
Sum up your 2014.
Words: Harriet Charity Verney
Photography: Thomas Whiteside
Hair & Makeup: Silvia Cincotta
All clothing models own.