April 29, 2014
David Bates '75, /78 received the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.

David Bates ’75, /78 received the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.

Artist David Bates ’75, ’78 made history this spring with the first-ever collaborative exhibitions at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Spanning Bates’ 40-year career, more than 90 artworks were included in the three-month exhibitions. The Modern displayed his paintings, and the Nasher displayed sculptures and works on paper.

Called “without question Dallas’ most venerated artist” by Dallas Morning News art critic Rick Brettell, Bates got his start at SMU. After earning a B.F.A. degree, he participated in the prestigious Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art. However, the New York art scene’s focus at that time didn’t fit with his interests, so Bates returned to Dallas to earn an M.F.A. from SMU. He went on to attain national stature through a career grounded in his Texas roots.

Magnolia in a Chair, 2004. Oil on canvas.

Magnolia in a Chair, 2004. Oil on canvas.

Marla Price, director of the Modern, said that Bates “translates his own experiences into works of art that transcend regional boundaries.” Nasher Director Jeremy Strick noted that Bates is “following in the footsteps of the great painter-sculptors Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.”

Bates’ paintings, many of them large-scale, are distinguished by bold black outlines and heavy application of paint. His subjects range from atmospheric representations of the cypress swamps of Grassy Lake in Arkansas to powerful figures of fishermen working along the Gulf Coast. Bates’ compelling series on Hurricane Katrina depicts the pathos of storm survivors. Both paint and sculpture renditions of magnolias track the evolution of the artist’s style through the years. More abstract than his paintings, Bates’ sculptures begin with such materials as wood, cardboard, clay and scrap metal. After they are cast in bronze, he adds patina and paint to their surfaces. His diverse sculpture subjects include starkly dramatic owls and skulls and graceful female figures.

Works in the exhibitions were on loan from major museums, including New York’s Metropolitan and Whitney, the Hirshhorn Museum and Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., Dallas Museum of Art, and museums in San Francisco, Houston and Honolulu, as well as numerous private collections.