When James Bates, 42, isn’t a sportscaster giving play-by-plays of college football and basketball, he spends hours in a barn surrounded by nature and chickens.
Bates, former linebacker for the Florida Gators, paints during the offseason in the barn in his backyard.
He and his wife, Tina Bates, were both honorary chairs for the 25 Candles Birthday Benefit, which celebrated the Harn Museum of Art’s 25th Anniversary.
One of his pieces was on display as part of the Birthday Benefit.
Phyllis DeLaney, senior director of development for the Harn Museum of Art first met Bates about two years ago on an airplane, where he showed her his work on his website. She was impressed by his art and enjoyed his fresh look on coaches and athletes.
Bates’ folk art pokes some fun at football and shows the lighter side of it, like how University of Alabama coach Nick Saban eats oatmeal pies.
When the interior designer of the newly built Dasburg President’s House said she wanted something artistic and Gator-related for the media room, DeLaney said she had the right person for her.
After initially debating on the piece’s focus, Bates decided on highlighting Mr. Two Bits. For the Harn’s anniversary, 100 prints of the painting were given to donors in gift bags.
His painting of a beach house that’s almost abstract, according to DeLaney, was displayed. Because he’s typically thought of as a sports guy, it gave people a chance to see his work, DeLaney said.
While Bates has never had a formal art class, he spent a lot of time in class drawing cartoons. If one of his buddies on the football team got in trouble that week, Bates would draw something making fun of him.
One of the people who helped him along the way was his roommate in college, Eric Kresser, who was a UF art history major. Bates kept pushing him to draw a landscape of where he and Tina got engaged, but Kresser didn’t have the time.
Instead, he taught Bates how to build a canvas and let him use his paints.
“There was really something about it, even the smell of the paints and everything,” Bates said. “Just the whole process. I just knew that it definitely wasn’t going to be the last painting that I ever did.”
Around that time, he stumbled into a gallery in Miami and knew he wanted to have art in his home. After realizing the potential cost of doing so, he knew he had to make the art himself.
Bates has two styles: folk art and landscapes, which focus on structures and buildings, he said.
Doing folk art allows him to put stories down and it mixes his two interests. Bates enjoys showing the normalcy and human side of sports, coaches and players, who some hold with high regard, he said.
For his paintings of structures, he draws inspiration from being on the road. He’ll take notes or a picture when he spots a building or alleyway he wants to paint in the spring.
For as long as Tina Bates has known him, he has been drawing and painting, but he began to paint more seriously about 15 years ago. They have been married for 18 years.
Seeing him evolve through the years and how he expresses himself has been neat for her to experience. Because of all the materials required for painting and building canvases, he needs space so the barn acts as his studio, she said.
“It’s hard for me to get a hold of him out there,” she said. “He certainly wouldn’t answer his phone if he were out painting. Then also I’ll yell for him, and he usually doesn’t even hear me. So I think he kind of gets into his own world out there.”
As a sportscaster, his fall and winter are slamming busy, and he’s constantly talking and smiling. So the harder he works during this time, the more Bates needs alone time in his studio to paint.
It’s how he “comes up for air,” he said.
Bates said he’ll always have to paint, even if it’s just the walls of his house.
“Because of playing football, my hands have probably aged a little bit faster than most people my age,” Bates said. “I’ve got crooked fingers and lumps in the backs of my hands from tackling and getting caught in the middle of helmets. As long as [my hands] are going OK, I’ll be painting. I don’t ever see myself not painting.”
It has recently been announced that James Bates and Tim Walton, the current head coach of the Florida Gators softball team, will be hosting this year’s Gator Growl.