David Bates at Dunn and Brown Contemporary
by Charles Dee Mitchell, ART IN AMERICANear the center of the painted wood relief Cannas (all works 2000), there is a break in the thin strip of lumber that composes the stem of a flower. Corresponding to the snapped stalk of a tall, floppy bloom, the break has been created by notching, sawing and refitting the wooden pieces. It’s a practical, forthright solution that could have been painted over cosmetically. But compared to the other still lifes in David Bates’s exhibition, Cannas is largely unpainted; at 60 by 44 by 7 inches, it is also one of the largest. He left much of the scrap lumber, plywood and paneling exposed, highlighting it with the heavy black lines that define the shapes he has washed in white and brown. As insignificant as that one broken stem may seem, it is a perfect example of the combination of craftsmanship and inspiration that gave this exhibition its resonance. For me, Cannas crackles with energy.
Bates showed an array of painted wooden reliefs, painted bronzes and paintings on canvas and panel. When he loads color onto the reliefs, he creates a play between illusionism and three-dimensionality that from a distance confounds the works’ true nature. Up close, the tension between lush paint and jagged surface engages the viewer in Bates’s process. In Tulips, each red flower is the size of a fist, with chunky wooden petals and pistils that form a small abstract painting. The Sunflowers in a Vase are spiky and aggressive. His Forsythia tumble over the construction as though barely held in place by their stems.
The paintings ranged from the very traditional White Roses, where succulent flowers sprout densely from foliage in a green glass vase, to an over-the-top rendition of three Sunflowers, in which extravagantly painted blossoms push forward in the shallow space as if straining to become like their three-dimensional counterparts in a nearby relief.
The abrupt and sometimes even brutal transitions from drawing to painting to sculpture in Bates’ oeuvre are never disconcerting, due to the sophistication and enthusiasm he brings to each piece, the sureness of his handling and the sheer pleasure he takes in the materials.