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NATURE DISTILLED / THE PAINTINGS OF PEGGY BATES


Peggy Bates is a New York based artist with a history of successful solo exhibitions, participation in international art fairs, grants and awards, works in select corporate  collections, and effusive critical praise and context in nationally recognized media sources such as The New York Times, Art in America, Vanity Fair, and Elle. Bates has been exhibiting in New York since the early 1990's. Her work has been highly exposed by her participation in several art fairs such as Art Miami, Art Wynwood,  AQUA Art Miami, Scope, and the Pool Art Fair. Recently she was selected to participate in "70 Years of Abstract Painting" at the Jason McCoy Gallery.

Bates is often referred to as a 'material painter'--someone for whom the paint itself is the primary motif, alternating between formal and symbolic qualities, which are orchestrated through a rigorous practice and a deft understanding of how the elements of color, mass, transparency, and gesture can express both a breadth of meaning suggestive in different ways to the individual viewer, and a way of speaking to the greater allegorical context of contemporary abstraction.  




How we experience and learn from her work depends upon which element makes the initial impression. Each one of us is drawn to a different aesthetic, and though Bates brings these elements together in a systematic fashion, simultaneously sewing one into the other, we are each still apt to make choices that will direct the order of attention. Color is usually the first of these. In order to understand its function in her work, one has to know certain things. Bates' work specifically reflects her relationship to the elements as both meaningful entities and aspects of lived experience. She is drawn to bodies of water, specifically that nether region where land ends and water begins, where a solid and a liquid reality merge, and one is hard-pressed to stay true to one or the other. There is a headiness that invades us when we find ourselves at the margins between one reality and another.

Color functions in two ways to properly represent this perspective. First, it introduces the layering of sensory experience, like a speculative order, of events that are myriad and universal, yet also intimate and specific to her history and a continued engagement with the primal roots of nature. Secondly, color initiates a formal event that has immediate emotional repercussions for the viewer, and likewise to the first aspect, the experience the viewer has is also formal and poetic. Take her painting "Nicolle Bay" as an example. It seems dominated by pale blue, silver, and snowy white. These are the colors of winter, or of a place dominated by cold weather, like the North or South pole, where actual life exists only because it can, and the elements hold sway. These colors divide the surface, spreading over certain areas and then reducing to a trickle in others. Then she introduces stream-like 'flowforms' which invade the initial color structure, splitting it into disparate smaller areas, and creating a visual tension that is palpable. They are like arctic currents flowing through warmer areas, like the Gulf Stream, invading an underwater ecosystem with alien intent; the smaller poured colors function as insertions or exceptions, and are either added later or survive from a previous pouring: red stripes, dashes of tangerine orange, dark metallic blue.





Mass is the second generative element. Bates' paintings are heavy with medium and their colors both mask and adorn the evident heaviness of the actual work. Bates controls her pours so that they cover the entire surface and flow over every edge. She is able to direct the flow of the paint so that it amasses in certain areas and evades others. What is most noticeable is their visual depth, which she accomplishes by creating layers of thick paint amid other areas of scumbling in which a transparency emerges, like an underground stream one uses x-rays to view through solid ground. Transparency  seems to function in the realm of color, it introduces an aspect that is unforeseen. Her flow-forms break up the flatter and wider regions, introducing a layer of deceptive transparency by the use of clear gel medium, so that we think we actually see into the painting, both into its physical mass and somehow into both its process and material. These forms create a new visceral rigor for the new works that never existed before.  

Only after one has taken in the full painting, examined its more imposing pours, with the bulges and contours of the gestures involved, and then let the eyes rest, do these optical events emerge. In a poured painting gesture is everything, but for Bates it does not suggest drawing, or the notion of an expressive signature. Gestures are made with color, forming into mass, and combining with transparency, and together these elements amass meaning. Her works are complete realizations of the notion of all-over painting, which encompasses the formal and the symbolic, and speaks equally to the viewer and to the continued practice of abstraction. What is to be experienced in them can only be differentiated by the idiosyncratic contexts of random viewers, who will have had an experience that deepens their understanding of the natural world, and their own place in it.   






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