Sunday, April 8, 2012

David Bates at Arthur Roger Through May 19


Dallas artist David Bates may be the finest painter his home town has ever produced, but when it comes to his favorite sport, fishing, he heads to Louisiana, to the remote extremities of Plaquemines Parish. While the paintings in this Down Highway 23 series reflect the everyday lives of fishermen, they were inspired by a trip he made in 2010 when, instead of the usual scenes of shrimpers, oystermen and boats laden with the day's catch, he encountered a coastal dystopia defined by reporters, politicians, tar balls, oil slicks and clean up crews in hazmat suits. Evidence of the BP oil blowout was everywhere in a coastal landscape transformed into something nightmarish, but amid the chaos he soon began to spot the familiar faces of those who derived their living from those waters, visages like the woman titled simply Louisiana, below left, and what he saw in them was not defeat but the same resilience that had faced many hurricanes and came back for more.

Net Fishermen, top, is emblematic. Painted in a style that recalls the stoic strength of Diego Rivera's peasants, or Lynd Ward's starkly monumental images of 1930s American workers, it's a view of three men in a boat culling fish in a net--but the hovering gulls and stormy sea transform a prosaic scene into something far more iconic. Similar sensibilities are seen in Bait Fishing II, a view of two guys working a seine net, and in Cleaning Fish, Venice Louisiana II, both timeless scenes of the sort that have been eternally reenacted since since the stone age. Both are also defined by the stoic resolve seen in the faces of the figures. But his Port Sulphur Refinery at night is a hellish vision that might have inspired William Blake's line about “dark satanic mills,” yet all are rendered in vigorous, expressionistic slashes of pigment delivered with the bold, Zen-like economy of a karate master. Here Bates clearly defines the  the clash between technological depredation and the timeless, nature-based lifestyle that he renders with such mythopoetic resonance. ~Bookhardt

DOWN HIGHWAY 23: New Paintings by David Bates, Through May 19th, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999; 
(Click images to expand)
Left: Loading Traps