When Donna Bates considers her “Badass Chicks,” they are the picture of power and strength, independence and complexity. They’re dramatic, sexy, urban and femme.
In them, the 71-year-old artist sees herself.
“I think most of them are kind of like alter egos,” she said during a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “People like me — who were somewhat hipsters a long time ago — don’t just get square overnight. Just because we’re older, we’re still very capable of being edgy, hip. And not stodgy.”
By definition, Bates embodies the theme of the annual “Women Painting Women” show at RJD Gallery in Bridgehampton, opening on Saturday, October 6. But for the first time, the exhibit will expand its dialogue with the addition of “Men Painting Men.”
“This show invites figurative artists of both sexes to submit artwork and share the beauty we see within ourselves,” gallery owner Richard J. Demato said. ““Women Painting Women, Men Painting Men’ will foster an environment of equality and reveal both our differences and similarities, and how they shade imperceptibly into each other.”
Australian-born and England-based artist Matt R. Martin had been working with women in tangled, sculpted forms, and recently decided to explore the male figure in a similar way, he said.
And he loved the idea of jiu-jitsu.
“It’s like a combination of a dance of violence and a chess match of movement with proper technique and leverage,” he said. “And when it’s done at a high level, there is beauty in that: the male form with muscles straining and flexing.”
The oil on board, “Kimura,” is a finishing move, the 34-year-old explained, blurring the lines between violence and sex, movement and beauty.
“The human figure is a timeless subject matter,” he said, “and we will always be fascinated by ourselves.”
Before picking up painting in his mid-20s, Martin said he has been drawing as long as he can recall — as has Bates. “I used to draw in class all the time,” she said, “my teachers not being too excited about that.”
Although drawing and painting were her driving forces, she took up drums at age 16 and went with it, playing the early L.A. punk scene from the late 1970s and into the ’80s.
She transitioned into computers in the early 1990s, entering the male-dominated 3-D animation field, and went on to become one of the only women to teach CG modeling at Gnomon School of VFX — before rediscovering her earliest passion.
“I’m an older woman who has come back to painting, and it feels good,” she said. “But ageism seems to be a huge problem, also, of all the isms. As I’m getting older, I’m finding that — and, being a woman, that’s strike two.”
She sighed with a lighthearted laugh. “Don’t dismiss us, that’s all. We bring a certain amount of life experience that other people just don’t have. To me, when art is at its best, I think it moves you. And I hope, from my work, that you’re engaged with my girls or that you feel some empathy for them, while keeping it visually engaging but not hitting them over the head with political nonsense.”
It proves difficult for Bates, especially in the wake of the “Time’s Up” and “Me Too” movements — and speaking the day following testimony by Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault.
“After yesterday’s hearing, it’s just astonishing — and I think the most astonishing thing to me are the women who support [Brett] Kavanaugh,” she said. “As a woman — and so many women have, no matter what your political persuasions are — we all have either been harassed or, at minimum, had inappropriate things done to us by men.
“So many men — just normal guys that are nice guys — never realized that their mothers, that their sisters, that their friends have all experienced this,” she continued. “I think it’s pretty powerful.”
“Women Painting Women | Men Painting Men: Voices with Vision” will open with a reception on Saturday, October 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. at RJD Gallery, located at 2385 Main Street in Bridgehampton. The show will remain on view through Sunday, November 4. For more information, call (631) 725-1161 or visit rjdgallery.com.