The Art of Bats Langley

Bats Langley is a prolific bear artist residing in New York City. He is a painter, sculptor, writer, illustrator, toy designer, and overall jack of all trades, artistically speaking.

In the queer and bear space, Bats is known as the creator of GUS; a series of works that serve as an exploration of bigness. In Bats’ own words the characters presented in the GUS series:

“play with proportion, visual expectations, texture, sensuality, queerness, and gender. I create GUS in a place of symmetry, beauty, joy, self-love, zen, and relaxation, an alternative to the immensely charged feelings we have—and project onto others—surrounding weight, food, and size. GUS is an escape from a world that puts psychological, emotional, and expectational weight onto a bigger person.”

His other works have been featured in print and in galleries all over the world. Most recently, he illustrated the nonfiction biography of Jackie Kennedy entitled Jackie and the Books She Loved and he is a regular contributor to Spider, Ladybug, Cricket, and Scholastic magazines, frequently being featured as their cover artist.

We sit down with this talented artist for an illuminating conversation about his work, his ties to our community and his hopes for the future.

BWM: Tell us a bit about your background and how you started creating art?

Bats Langley: I’m a fine artist and illustrator living in New York City with my wonderful husband Nick. I grew up in Connecticut, and I started drawing and painting when I was a little kid. I remember being inspired by a print of the painting Starry Night; my elementary school art teacher Mrs. Hartigan had hanging in her classroom. I saw it and I just wanted to paint.

BWM: What is it about bears/ chubby guys that makes you want to incorporate them into your art?

Bats Langley: Honestly, I just don’t think there is enough representation of bigger guys in the fine art space that is just purely positive. A lot of the physical characteristics associated with bears -bigness, hairiness, etc…, have long been used in fine art as tropes to characterize someone as gross, gluttonous, brutish, etc… and I really thought it was high time there was some purely positive imagery of guys that look like me in fine art. What people love about the GUS pieces is that it’s about self-love, it’s not about being a sexual object for someone else, it’s about finding joy within your own skin.

BWM: What initially drew you into the bear community? And what keeps you there?

Bats Langley: As a bearded bigger guy myself, I always just felt accepted in the Bear community. I always thought guys with beards were attractive, I think that’s a lot of what drew me in. My husband is a very handsome bearded bear, and he has definitely been one of the things that keeps me involved with the community. We’ve made so many friends, met so many guys from different walks of life, different parts of the world, different perspectives, it’s been a really wonderful way to connect with people. It lets me meet a lot of great people whose paths I likely wouldn’t have ever crossed without the bear community, and I am immensely thankful for that.

BWM: Are you professionally trained or self-taught? Tell us about that.

Bats Langley: I was super lucky to be trained at the Rhode Island School of Design (otherwise known as RISD). It really was a fantastic education, and I feel privileged to have gone there, but with something like painting you never stop learning and trying new things. One of the things I love about living in New York is that there’s so many museums and so many galleries. Anytime you’re looking for inspiration, there’s new art to be seen. Every time I go out to see an exhibition or a show, I always take something new I haven’t thought of away from it.

BWM: Who are some of your artistic inspirations? 

Bats Langley: Oh, there are so many answers to this question. I really love Paul Cadmus, George Tooker, David Hockney, Van Gogh, Pierre et Giles, Greer Lankton, James Bidgood, Divine, John Waters, there are so many people that have inspired me. I’m very inspired by classic portraiture. It feels very special that one of the things I get to do is create an artistic record of queer people and queer love in art. Whenever someone commissions a piece, it’s an honor to be a part of their story, but it feels especially good with all of the historical erasure of queer people to make physical objects that show we are here.

BWM: Tell us about the origins of the GUS series.

Bats Langley: The GUS paintings started as a way for me to explore and express my own journey with my body, and my own queer, gay, bear, experience. I wanted to find ways to be joyful in my own body, and challenge people’s own negative thoughts about their own bodies. I think a lot of gay men have had negative thoughts about their bodies and I think one of the reasons that happens is because there historically hasn’t been enough diversity in representation of the many different types of bodies queer people actually have.

It was really important to me to create works that really express body joy. Not body acceptance, not tolerating the body, but real tangible joy in being in the body you are in; however it looks, at this very second. If I can create a piece of art that helps people feel joy in their own bodies, or that helps them reclaim the agency over feeling good about themselves, that’s a really special and powerful thing I would love to help spread with my art.

BWM: Where has your art been exhibited and what did that feel like to be honored in such a way?

Bats Langley: I’ve been really lucky to have my art shown in a lot of places. I’ve had art shown in the U.S. Capitol, I’ve had art shown in China, Los Angeles, all over the country. For a long time, I was represented by the AFA Gallery here in Soho New York until they closed after a 35-year run. Showing at the AFA Gallery was particularly cool because my art hung next to works by some of my favorite artists -Maurice Sendak, Tim Burton, and Dr. Seuss to name a few.

I think of one the most interesting places my art has shown up… I did a piece that was used for the podcast Scary Stories to Tell on the Pod, hosted by ex-SNL head writer Anna Drezen and mega talented and also handsome bear TV writer Andrew Farmer, and that ended up being shown on The Late Late Show with James Corden when they had Anna on to perform some standup. It was a really wild feeling to see something I had created actually on late night TV!

BWM: As a sculptor, writer and painter are there any other artistic mediums you’d like to work in and what is your ultimate dream/ goal for your art?

Bats Langley: I’m kind of up for wherever my art takes me. I have always loved working in different mediums. I would love to have something I worked on turned into a cartoon or a movie. I think that it’s wonderful that there are so many diverse queer stories being told these days, and I’d really be thrilled to be any part of getting more LGBTQ+ stories told. 

Eventually with the artwork itself, having a GUS gallery show somewhere would be truly fantastic. I would love to see my GUS works taking up space in a gallery and having my audience get a full GUS experience. I’ve heard from many people who have seen the artwork in real life, that the textures and saturation of the paint, the three dimensionality of the sculpture, and overall presence of the work, it’s a very different experience seeing in person rather than digitally. I haven’t seen a fine art show centered on work like my GUS series, and I think GUS’ time is coming.

BWM: Where can we see/ purchase your work? Social media profiles? Websites?

Bats Langley: You can find almost all of my work on my website, -you can find my store there, but if you’re interested in a piece you don’t see listed, or in commissioning something, absolutely feel free to shoot me an email or a message. I usually debut my work on my Instagram, @studiobatslangley . You can see a bit more of the behind-the-scenes stuff about our lives on my husband Nick’s Instagram, @nclarkspear -He’s my muse, my biggest fan, my photographer, and gives me the support that keeps me making art. It’s always amazing to me when people reach out to me because they’re moved by my art, so if you have any comments or questions, feel free to say hi!

BWM: What is coming next for you?

Bats Langley: I’ve got lots of projects in the works! I have a couple of picture books I’m currently shopping around, and I’ve got more GUS paintings coming. I’d love to have a physical gallery show of GUS works at some point in the future -I’m lucky that the GUS paintings keep selling just about as quickly as I can paint them, so I haven’t been able to make enough of them at one time to have enough for a show!

John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.