Story Poster
Photo by Inside the Gators

ITG Feature: James Bates...Gator, Artist, Storyteller

February 19, 2019

Go monthly with our $1.00 Sneak Peak

James Bates heads up the outside staircase, pausing at the top landing, his back to a sign promoting a website that looks more like a modern art piece and looks out over his backyard. He points out the batting cage where his son spent hours growing up, the Airstream he and his wife Tina had dreams of taking to the beach, the old truck he drives around proudly, the five and a half acres that have made up the homestead he and Tina have created over the past 13 years on the far reaches of Gainesville.

Inside the Gators

The Tennessee native who arrived in town to play for Steve Spurrier in the 1990’s and became a captain on the ’96 Championship team couldn’t leave the town that made him, and there wasn’t a chance of the town letting someone they’ve come to call their own leave anyways; so instead the Bates family settled in, with Bates becoming one of the most beloved players from Spurrier’s time, his Head Ball Coach impersonation and ability to recall a HBC story at the drop of the hat having long endured him to fans.

But none of that is why we’re here.

He turns and opens the door, flipping on a light and stepping across a section of floor that has been painted with the outline of the state of Florida, looking proudly around the space.

“This is just incredible. I love having this up here. I’ve got a bathroom where I can give Hank a shower, wash off my brushes.”

Hank, the dog in question, loafs in and pulls himself up onto a couch that can’t decide if it’s burnt orange or brown but regardless serves as a counterpart to the bright colors that punctuate every other corner of the space.



This is James Bates art studio, and it is a charmingly unexpected side to the former linebacker. 

It’s been years since the first time “Batesy” picked up a paintbrush, inspired by that which has driven many a man to step outside of his comfort zone: love.

Eric Kresser was, he was Danny Wuerffel’s backup, he was a quarterback. And we were in the same freshman class and he was my roommate. He majored in art and I was always drawing, I liked art, I probably should’ve taken art classes at UF because I was sitting in class drawing anyway. But I never really took any classes.

“I took a picture of where Tina and I got engaged in Tennessee on the river, and I asked him to do a painting of it for Christmas for her one year and he said he would but then Christmas was getting closer and he was like ‘oh dude I’m really busy. I’ll teach you how to build a canvas and you can do it.’ I was like alright and just kinda painting that I knew that I would have to paint more, I just loved it.

“About the same time we had just finished up doing the “Waterboy” and I was working on “Any Given Sunday”,” he says with the nonchalance of someone who has filled his life with adventures including but not limited time acting as an extra in Adam Sandler and Al Pacino movies.

Then we take a quick detour for a story, as is apt to happen with spending time with Bates.

“I ended up finishing it because I broke my nose. All the years playing real football I never broke my nose and I go to this and broke my nose.”

Inside the Gators
Bates and his dog Hank in the art studio.

But back to the art… 

“So just when I was down there, walking through the galleries in Miami—and it was about the same time I painted that piece for Tina—and I was just blown away, I was like ‘oh my gosh I’ve gotta have art like this in my house. But I can’t afford art like this in my house so I’m gonna have to figure out how to make art for my house.’ So I started doing a lot of landscapes, I just wanted big pieces.”

For a while that was enough.

“It’s a good excuse cause I’d rather paint than be on a computer. I probably had about a dozen decent sized pieces that I just wanted to keep creating before I ever really thought about selling one.”

Then, in a life that is forever intertwined to Florida athletics, people started to notice Bates talent…more so they appreciated it.

“You know one of the first people that bought a piece from me was Christine Donovan, Billy’s wife,” he muses, as if remembering it for the first time in years.

So Tina suggested he have a show, let others see the art he’d been storing up at home. They talked to their friends at Dragonfly, the popular and chic downtown Gainesville sushi bar, and set up a show.

Inside the Gators
A new piece depicting the Gator Heisman winners. 

“[Gators soccer head coach] Becky Burleigh bought a piece shortly after that show and then [Gainesville lawyer] Jeffrey Meldon, he’s got one of my favorite pieces I ever did and that was one of my early ones.”

Then we take another one of those detours, talking about his son spending a few months working at the most remote fishing lodge in Alaska. Then about the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

“They love their basketball…and this place is made from corn. Like real corn. They take the shucks and make the most amazing designs on the side of the building.”

And that’s when it clicks, something that should have been blatantly obvious above all else when I first met Batesy five years ago.

Above all else, James Bates is a storyteller.

Throughout his life he’s held and still holds many titles; husband, father, linebacker, athlete, actor, teacher, color commentator, coach, artist…but the thread that binds all of those roles together for Bates is that of a storyteller.

It perpetuates everything he does; it molds his role as a teacher of sports broadcasting at University of Florida, it shapes how he calls games as a color commentator for the ACC Network, it’s what can keep a room full of even Georgia alumni and boosters cackling as he’s inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame…and it shows up in every single pieces of art he touches, manifesting itself in the whimsical style he calls football folk art. Because those are the stories Batesy has in abundance.

There’s a screen print of an older piece, showing the top half of faces that are clearly Steve Spurrier and wrestler Ric Flair, the Spurrier line “Alright, Nature Boy, my man” in loopy letters across the top.

“[Flair] used to ride the bus with us. He would go to all of our games. Now he does it, like Michigan will pay him to come up and get the fans all hyped, pep rally and stuff. But he used to just like football, like Spurrier and stuff.

“We would come out of our hotel and it was usually in town and we would come out of our hotel and we’d stay at the Holiday Inn West over here which is now called something else by that Chili’s or Applebee’s. And he’d be sitting there by the bus like ‘Wooo’ and stuff, so fired up.”

He picks up a piece depicting Spurrier with a line delivered before a game against Auburn kicking off at 11am in the Tigers central time zone, as opposed to the Gators eastern zone.

“He used to think he was so clever with his quotes like ‘let them play at 11, we’ll play at noon’,” cackles Bates in a perfect HBC tone.

He has a whole section of massive busts, all former college linebackers, painted in the folksy style, that made up a show titled “Landscapes and Linebackers.” Well actually, there are a couple missing.

Takeo Spikes [former Auburn and NFL Pro-Bowl linebacker]…I liked to watch him play…but he has this really big neck. His neck is bigger than he his head so I wanted to paint that. And he bought that.”

There’s one hanging beside his pool, a focal point for the outdoor area, depicting Brian Bosworth in his All-American Oklahoma days. It calls to mind a favorite Batesy story about his time with Steve Spurrier, one he passed along the day the HBC retired from coaching at South Carolina.

“All I ever wanted to do was wear number 44 and make plays like the Boz…when I’d get a media guide when I was being recruited, I’d flip through like ‘ok he’s a senior, that means I can get number 44 next year.’ So I had my 44, feeling good, my redshirt freshman year, [linebacker] Daryl Bush, he comes in on his recruiting trip and I’m his host…Saturday morning we’d meet down in the locker room and at the time they’d take the number the kids wore in high school and make a name plate…so there’s my 44 jersey in the locker with Bush on the back. That’s fine. So we’re standing there looking at it and here comes Coach Spurrier…Daryl’s mom says ‘Daryl has worn 44 his whole life and he plans on wearing it in college.’ And he goes ‘Batesy you wear 44 don’t you? You feel like giving it up?’ ‘No sir.’ And he looks back at his mom and says ‘well guess he won’t be wearing 44 if he’s a Gator.’”

Daryl Bush, for what it’s worth, ended up going to Florida State University.

But back in the second floor studio, Batesy continues to pitter around, recalling old memories and favorite limericks as he picks up each piece, some finished, some still in the beginning stages.

Inside the Gators
Bates with his bust of linbackers and cultural pieces.

Laughing at a newer piece that shows Mark Richt with sagging pants, no shirt and a U chain: “Mark Richt, gosh isn’t that such a funny, the juxtaposition, he’s such a choir boy but he is Miami, and it’s such an odd fit. Everything we knew about him as Gators. But then Miami, the U, that’s the U so I just wanted to see him look like that.”

And there are countless more. From the 10’ tall Michael Phelps—“ I was working on some other projects in the barn and the Olympics were on…and I was thinking about it watching Phelps in an interview. Like he’s a good looking guy but he has real strange features. And I’m like I wanna paint his ear, I wanna paint him”—to the one showing Jim Harbaugh in pj’s and with a teddy bear, recalling the night he had a sleepover at a recruits house—to the almost abstract version of Spurrier in Sun Tzu garb—“It just fascinates me, Spurrier reading ‘The Art of War’”—to the humanizing depiction of Nick Saban as Santa Claus that sold the first night it was posted on social media.

These are all the moments James Bates has picked up over the years. Now every time he picks up a paintbrush he draws on a lifetime shaped by football, particularly SEC and Florida football, couples it with a pulse on pop culture and adds a touch of his own positive and infectious personality. It’s a winning combination. Because the same thing that has kept Batesy close to the heart of so many Gator fans over the years is now what makes every single B8sy Paints piece so unique and special.

Inside the Gators
Note the 25th Anniversary Swamp cup. 

It’s why the Florida athletic program asked him to design the special edition cup to sell in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the 25th anniversary of it being called The Swamp and how thousands of Florida student ticket holders found themselves with Batesy original designs of Head Ball Coach t-shirts (something he admits is cool to see whenever he’s on campus).

It’s what led someone who saw a piece in local Gainesville joint Satchels to ask for a Bates original, anything he wanted to do depicting Arnold Palmer. It’s why he’s working tirelessly on an almost life size piece of the three Gator Heisman winners for a lady in Tallahassee.

“It’s like it’s so incredibly rewarding to have people like call me up and say like—‘ok for my wife’s Christmas present’ or ‘for my husbands birthday’ or ‘for our house, it’ll make our house better if we have a piece a his art in it.’ It’s just the coolest thing in the world; that will never, ever, ever get old.”

By all indications, it won’t stop anytime soon. Each piece is a story told by the artist and James Bates is nothing if not a storyteller with a treasure trove of tales.

ITG Feature: James Bates...Gator, Artist, Storyteller

3,124 Views | 6 Replies | Last: 2 yr ago by Eric-UF
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Great story about a guy I have admired since his playing days. I would love to acquire a piece of his work. A true Gator as well.
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Really nice article, thanks!
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Really good stuff!
Mark Wheeler
How long do you want to ignore this user?
gwdad1 said:

Great story about a guy I have admired since his playing days. I would love to acquire a piece of his work. A true Gator as well.
Mark Wheeler
How long do you want to ignore this user?
I love the Bush story, but it would be better in person to hear Bates mimic SOS's voice.
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Mark Wheeler said:

I love the Bush story, but it would be better in person to hear Bates mimic SOS's voice.
Here is a video of him telling the story....

Page 1 of 1
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.