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"David Bates : The Katrina Paintings"
2010-05-21 until 2010-08-22
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Kansas City, MO, USA

For decades, Texas-based artist David Bates has painted images of America’s bucolic Gulf Coast—its people and places. In 2005, Bates, like many Americans, was overwhelmed by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. In the exhibition David Bates: The Katrina Paintings, the artist addresses Katrina, one of the most severe and inexplicable tragedies of our time, and its devastating aftermath. In this series of paintings and works on paper, Bates’ paintings remind us again why art defines our civilizations. David Bates: The Katrina Paintings is on view May 21–August 22, 2010, at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Admission is free.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 28, 2005, and caused massive damage and flooding throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, including New Orleans, a city that rests below sea level. More than 1800 people lost their lives as a result of the storm, one of the deadliest in the history of the United States. With more than $81 billion dollars in damages occurred, it was also the most costly storm. (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Thousands of people were stranded in New Orleans without adequate food, water, and shelter from the storm and rising flood waters, and the response for help seemed delayed due to the overwhelming nature of the disaster. Since 2005, New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities have worked to rebuild what was lost, and years later, significant numbers of the displaced residents have yet to return home.

An Artist’s Response

Like many, David Bates knew that the people and landscapes he depicted in the past would be forever changed after Hurricane Katrina. Bates was glued to the television and other news vehicles for information about the storm and its victims. Because New Orleans and much of the region were closed at first, Bates, an artist who generally paints from the source, worked from those first mediated images, showing the Hurricane’s destruction and victims. In an interview with Kemper Museum Curator Barbara O’Brien in the exhibition’s catalogue, Bates says, “I felt like there was a lot of rule breaking I was taking with the Katrina body of work: painting a subject while not being there; painting from the TV; painting from photos; paintings from the safety of my house in Dallas; covering something horrifically wrong—beautiful paint presenting something so horrific.” Later, the artist traveled a half-dozen times to reconnect with and document the places that had so often been his subject. As well, he formed relationships with the Gulf Coast’s citizens that sought refuge in his hometown of Dallas.

The artist’s response to Katrina resulted in a series of paintings and works on paper, created from 2005 to 2007. Bates in these works painted dramatic and agonizing images, including those of destroyed property as well as the displaced people of the South. The exhibition includes a number of preliminary studies and photographs with 34 oil paintings along with 10 works on paper. The large-size scale of many of the exhibition’s works, including two triptychs, brings a monumental and religious icon quality to the gallery.

David Bates, who uses a bright palette with a dark Marsden Hartley-like line, is best known for his paintings and sculptures of the people and landscapes of the America’s Gulf Coast, ranging from fishermen to flowers native to the swamps of the South. He earned a BFA in 1975 and an MFA in 1978 from Southern Methodist University. His paintings are in collections throughout the United States, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

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