Born in Calgary, Alberta in 1906, Bates started painting at an early age; his piece In the Kitchen was painted when he was 15 years old. As a young adult, he worked for his father's architecture firm. His father, William Stanley Bates, was himself a prominent architect in early Calgary who designed the Burns Building (1912) and the Grain Exchange (1909).
Bates studied with Lars Jonson Haukaness at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary from 1926-1927. In 1931 Bates moved to England, where he supported himself as a door-to-door vacuum salesman while exhibiting his art work at the Wertheim Gallery. In England he associated with promising young artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Victor Pasmore.
As a member of the British Territorial Army in 1940, Bates was captured in France and became a prisoner of war in Thuringia. He remained a POW until 1945. This experience was captured in his 1978 book A Wilderness of Days.
Bates returned to Calgary in 1946 to work with his father's architectural firm again. His first wife May Watson, whom he married in 1949, died in 1952. He then married Charlotte Kintzle in 1954.
His work has been showcased at art galleries worldwide and retrospective exhibitions have been shown in galleries such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery. In 1971 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary. In 1980 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
- Some images of Bates's work
- Maxwell Bates, Lethbridge College Buchanan Art Collection
- Historic Places of Canada
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