oil on canvas, 76 x 48, signed lower right: Bates,
Provenance: Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY; Private Collection, Hawaii; Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA; Private Collection, acquired from above.
This portrait of a woman Bates met while in Louisiana encompasses the undeniable amalgamation of modern, outsider, folk, naÃ¯ve, regional, and classical styles that influence and shape Batesâ€™ powerful and identifiable style. Charles Cowles Gallery in New York was one of the first galleries to represent David Batesâ€™ work in the early 1980â€™s, and this painting was exhibited in a one-man show at the gallery in 1990 along with 14 other paintings. The painting is reproduced as color plate number 3 in the catalogue from that show, David Bates Nov 6 â€“ 24, 1990. Ronny Cohen wrote an essay on Bates in this catalogue and describes the artistâ€™s inspiration, subject choice and technique in this painting: â€œstartling clarity of his composition is underscored by the crisp and outlined edges of planes, and use of stark highlights and shadows to intensify tensions between linear and more fully modeled handling of form.” Cohen goes on to describe Batesâ€™ powerful rendering of the sitter: â€œ[Batesâ€™ style] can be found in the slopes of the shoulders and angles of the elbows and hands that give the woman portrayedâ€¦ that specific placement in the composition that fixes her image in the mindâ€™s eye in such a way as to convey the strength Bates has seen in this individual that he met in Louisiana and is sharing with the viewer.”
Justin Spring wrote an essay for the book, David Bates Â© 2007, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, for which he researched and interviewed the artist and others for over two years. Spring describes 1983, when Bates first visited Grassy Lake with Claude Albritton as a turning point in his career. As Albrittonâ€™s guest to this magical and rare bio-dome of birds, fish, reptiles, and other critters flourishing in a swamp canopied by ancient cypress, Bates had the rare opportunity to experience this calm coexistence with the wilds and rare beauty of this rare setting. This sparks an epiphany of inspiration to a series of powerful depictions of the Southern landscape and portraits of passionate and calm souls. Spring goes on to describes Bates portraits in general as, â€œintimate, half-length seated figures in frontal poses. This format allows the viewer a closer, more intimate encounter with the subject matter and at the same time gives the artists the opportunity to use his expressive brushwork more effectively in the portrayal of the faces and hands.” The sitter is, â€œframed against a deep landscape that somehow defines or describes [him]”, the woman in this painting, seated in her Adirondack chair with golden pieces and shards of light in the background dramatically framed in the dark branches of the magnolia tree, Bates defines her place. Through his career, Bates ventures across state lines to find more inspiration in the identifiably unique natural geographical phenomena of the South.
This painting combines many breakthrough and signature strengths in Batesâ€™ work: texture, portraiture, still life, geographical identification, and commentary on the human condition. Spring notes that in the early 1990â€™s many of Batesâ€™ works, â€œare painted so thickly that their impasto approximates relief.” This painting encompasses that sculptural aspect with the heavy layers and dramatic strokes of paint. 1990 marks a time when Bates begins to paint more floral still lifes, which are a nod to his motherâ€™s passion for arranging. Spring defines Batesâ€™, â€œflowers are among the most hefty and energized in the history of American painting.” In this painting the magnolia defines the geographical local of Louisiana. Her face has a peaceful knowing about her. Her white hair portraying her wisdom; the soft warm pinks of her shirt behind the bold, powerful starburst shape of the magnolia blossom uphold her strength of feminine spirit in the work. She is framed in the weathered calm of the white washed wood in the Adirondack chair and pale warm tones of the paneled pieces of wood in the tabletop. These linear shapes and soft fresh light tones seem to frame the sitter; setting the tone of this peaceful site, and at the same time the branches and light depicting the robust wilderness and its relationship with American South.
Sources: David Bates, by: Justin Spring Â© 2007, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in association with Scala Publishers
David Bates (exhibition catalogue); Nov 6-24, 1990 Charles Cowles Gallery