By Mary Ellen Riddle | Correspondent
Rhonda Bates brims with creativity. She makes pottery and creates paintings, grows vegetables and stunning orchids, makes healthy bread and plays the stand-up bass. The 67-year-old woman’s love of nature drives her. Add in her dreams — a subconscious spring that feeds her creativity — and you have an intoxicating concoction that is inspirational, colorful and life-affirming.
This year alone, the self-made woman completed 30 oil paintings. She creates landscapes using contrasting colors that make her images shimmer. Reds pop against greens. Purples and oranges vibrate as do blues placed next to yellows. She is inspired by colors on the horizon, cloud formations and water reflections. “I love the darkness of the waves and the sparkling of the light,” she says. Bates can paint on location, from photographs, from memory and from her dreams.
She regularly exhibits her paintings at Red Drum Pottery in Frisco, which she and her husband Wes Lassiter run. For years her focus has been working in clay, but she has been longing to focus more on painting, her first love.
“I started painting probably when I was 5,” she says. “By the time I was 13, I knew I was an artist.” In time, she found herself living near Ocean City, Maryland, in what she describes as “an old farmhouse at the end of the earth, painting up a storm.”
Bates grew up right outside of D.C. and spent time at the Corcoran Gallery. She had no formal art training and wondered if her work was any good. So she loaded paintings into her Volkswagen and drove to the affiliated Corcoran School of Art to find out. After having it viewed by staff, she was surprised to receive an invitation to attend the prestigious school where she earned a BFA in painting.
It was there that she experienced an astounding creative burst that influenced the rest of her life.
With a goal to understand the creative process and provoke it, she found a theory that one painting could inspire a dozen. One night, she set up three pieces of paper alongside the original painting and began filling the blank sheets a little at a time. “The whole image changed,” she says. She took the one that changed and re-did it 10 times. “I did 12 paintings in 11 hours,” she says. “I stayed at school most of the night.”
The following day, her instructor was amazed by the work. Students, staff, the dean and the Corcoran Gallery director were called in to view the paintings and have Bates explain how she created them within the timeframe. The room was packed with people. Bates was informed that what she had experienced was rare, and that Picasso might have had 5 such creative experiences in his lifetime.
“I’ve had a couple of other times where maybe I was coming close to that again,” Bates says. She encourages other painters to give the technique a chance. While not all achieve an 11-hour creative high, it is common to visit that wordless state while creating.
“When I paint, I am not really aware,” she says. “I am responding. There is a period of time, and it can go on for hours where I am totally unselfconscious. I can’t see what I am doing until I get done, and I step away from it.” It is not always about focusing on a subject, she says, but about “being” in nature.
Frisco painter Linda Browning invited Bates to join her and Raphael Robinson, another Frisco painter, at a show of their artwork at the Dare County Arts Council in August. Their nature-inspired exhibit, called Journeys, is on display Aug. 6-28. There, visitors will see the recent fruits of Bate’s creative state: nature paintings that range in sizes from 12-by-16 inches to 40-by-60 inches. And in Frisco, they can visit a brand-new 800-foot painting gallery and musical theater (and possible yoga studio) under Red Drum Pottery this summer.