A retrospective by Jason Jenkins
Edward Stephenson Bates (June 5th, 1925 – January 29th, 2021) was an honored World War II veteran, devoted father, and celebrated painter. Growing up in Atlantic City, N.J., Bates began crafting this legacy during the Great Depression.
Bates graduated from high school well-regarded amongst his peers, and at 18 years old he was drafted into United States Navy to serve during WWII. After completing boot camp Bates and his group were among the first transferred to the prestigious Naval Air Technical Training School in Tennessee where their entry would break through the barriers of segregation. He emerged from training with a rank of Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class and was assigned to the Floyd Bennett Naval Air Station in Brooklyn, New York. While his training group’s entry into the aviation school was historically significant, those unfortunate circumstances prevented him from serving on an aircraft carrier. However, no amount of discrimination would get in the way of Bates living as a man proud of his serving his country. From traveling to share his story with primary school students to receiving countless official community and county awards, Bates was recognized and formally honored for his service by the United States Honor Flight Network at a Washington D.C. festival in 2016.
After WWII Edward Bates moved to Ohio, where he managed a steel mill factory. There he would marry Shirley Foster and together the couple would have their first two children. Sadly, Shirley would pass on early in their marriage, after which Bates returned to New York in continuance of life and in search of new opportunities. In 1958 he married Gladys Owens, and for nearly 60 years the two built a life together and raised a combined family with four more children of their own. Bates led his family with pride, dignity, and boundless love – all qualities which were instilled in his six children who would each go on to lead their own successful lives.
While living in New York Edward Bates fully immersed himself into the art world. He began by managing the distribution of fabrics between international textile companies and would also pick up working as an illustrator for women’s wear.
Although he displayed an early talent and interest in visual arts as a child, winning Bamberger and Scholastic awards at age 12, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Bates received a set of oil paints from his uncle and embraced oil painting as his main artistic medium. Bates’ first oil painting, Gaucho, was painted at such a level of artistic maturity and craft comprehension that one would have to question if he did not train with the Renaissance master El Greco himself. In no way was this a mark of beginner’s luck; Bates’s artistic talents were self-taught and consistently nurtured through everything he achieved. For example, his aviation mechanical training surely served as a foundation for his technical precision in portraiture, creating a style that functioned comfortably between realism and the limitless sublime. Whether it was from watching boats sail along the Atlantic City Bay or sailing himself, Bates would inherit the essence of the sea which he instilled within his portraits of historical and cultural figures whose faces would shine with the fluid vitality of the ocean.
Mr. Bates was truly a communal man and in addition to exhibits at the annual Brooklyn Fulton Street Art Fair, Brooklyn Museum and US Supreme Court, Bates took part in countless others as an active member of the Fulton Street Arts Consortium and the 20th Century Creators. This nationally acclaimed artist would later move to Long Island with his daughter, settling in Deer Park, where he continued to participate in community and arts council activities. He was also a member of the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts. Bates’ commitment to his craft, culture, and multiple communities found him highly celebrated throughout life, and especially on Long Island – notably in 2013 by the Town of Babylon for his contribution to cultural history, and in 2014 for his one-man career retrospective show at the Conklin House.
Eubie Blake • 24"x30" • Oil on Canvas
Gaucho • 20"x27" • Oil on Canvas
Two Girls from Benin • 22"x24" • Oil on Canvas
Maasi Woman • 24"x30" • Oil on Canvas