William Blake wrote of the possibility of seeing, 'a world in a grain of sand'. Robert Bates miniature works are not quite so microcosmic but equally open up a vista of possibilities. The minute scale, achieved readily in water-colour and applied with fine-stranded sables, is in itself an object of beguilement. Size does matter; a work no bigger than a postcard literally focusses the act of perception and invites the viewer into an Alice-in -Wonderland world where things seem 'curiouser' and more intense. Familiar scenes of County Kerry or the darker themes of urban landscape appear subtly changed, more magical but not naive. As with the works of Palmer, Spencer, Nash or Hopper that have lent inspiration, there is a brooding, uneasy quality attempting to capture a fleeting moment in a never-predictable world. Bates work has a depth that needs more than one keyhole viewing to appreciate.
Born in 1943, Robert is a graduate of the Royal College of Art, London. He has had two solo exhibitions at the Molesworth Gallery and a further twelve at Lumley Cazalet Fine Art in London. His work is included in many major public and private collections, including the Arts Council and the British Museum. Robert Bates has lived and worked in Co. Kerry for 25 years.
Education: Birmingham College of Art; Royal College of Art, London
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2008 Solitary figure in a winter landscape, The Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
2006 The Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
1970-1997 Tweleve solo exhibitions at Lumley Cazelet Fine Art, London
1991 The National Library of Ireland, Dublin
1989 Chivian Cobb, New York
British Museum; Arts Council; British Council; Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin; National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; McNay Institute, San Antonio, Texas
Following is an extract from a review of Robert's previous exhibition at The Molesworth Gallery:
'Robert Bates, at the Molesworth Gallery, works on an incredibly small scale. Disconcertingly so, if you happen to encounter his work first in the form of illustrations in the show's catalogue. So intricately detailed are his representational images that you tend to assume they must be quite large in reality. In fact they are hardly bigger than the modestly scaled reproductions. They are painstakingly painted in watercolour to a remarkable level of finish.
Bates lives in Kerry and has been in Ireland for 21 years. He has a distinctive, almost idiosyncratic vision, with aspects of the Romantic and the Gothic, with echoes of Casper David Friedrich, for example. He likes dramatic natural lighting effects: bright moonlight, sunsets, sunlight spilling into rocky woodland settings.
There is a storybook quality to some of this, with cabins in the forest, or figures emblematically isolated in huge natural settings, yet Bates always anchors his imagery in a matter-of-fact world and never drifts into sentiment or contrivance.
He lets his pictures have lives of their own by opting not to pin them down in terms of narrative meaning. It's up to us to work out what is going on when we see a woman apparently reading a letter close to an electricity pole on a remote country road.
But Bates is not afraid to acknowledge the exceptional beauty of the landscape: he just doesn't sentimentalise it, and incorporates those electricity poles and rain pools in potholes as well as the range of distant mountains. As an artist he has formidable ability, in other words, and intelligence.'
Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, March 29th, 2006