New York

David Bates

Charles Cowles Gallery

No trendy themes or flashy formal devices for Dallas-based figurative painter David Bates. Instead, his own experiences provide his content, and his forms derive from his distinctive way of seeing reality The impact of his vision results from the mesmerizing power of an inspired imagination. With this group of recent oil paintings and painted wood reliefs, Bates established his position in the vanguard of American visionary painters.

A recurrent theme in this show—found in such affective paintings as Four Flags Trail and Kingfisher, both 1985—was man and nature. Four Flags Trail is a haunting portrait of a man seated in a canoe that floats on a tree-bordered stream. The luminous clarity of the colors used and the precise rendering of details (such as the sharp edges of individual leaves) immediately involves the viewer. The painting’s complex, rhythmic structure, achieved through the fine-tuning of repetitive patterns of shapes and colors, underscores the figure’s harmony with his surroundings; but the work’s emotive punch, the bell-like note of nostalgia it sounds, is based on a surprisingly subtle and sophisticated nuance—the bearing of the figure’s head. Held high and forthright, the head and the oddly thinface, seen in relationship to the large and powerful body, cast a poignant dimension over the figure, which accounts in no small way for the fascinating appeal of this painting.

Heads and faces are of special interest to the artist, which is obvious not only in fairly straightforward portraits such as Sisters, 1985, and Pumpkin King, 1984. The Conservatory, 1985, depicts a young woman walking down a winding path inside a glass-enclosed arboretum that houses an array of exotic plants and trees; their sparkling leaves, bathed in brilliant light, appear almost animated. An ominous atmosphere is created by the woman’s uplifted hand, and the odd inclination of her head and its small scale in relation to her body: her gestures intimate that she has been startled by something we cannot see, and the smallness of her head connotes vulnerability.

Although Bates can be descriptive to the point of endowing his compositions with an emphatic quality of “thereness” that borders on Magic Realism, he hardly tells all. Above all else, his paintings leave us with a tantalizing sense of mystery.

Ronny Cohen