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Thursday August 7, 2014 Former Gator James Bates is no slouch with a paintbrush; you can check out his work locally starting tonight

Updated: 12:08pm, August 7

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Most folks know James Bates as a former linebacker for the Gators, or as a TV personality who keeps busy during the season crisscrossing the country covering college football for FOX Sports.

But when the grind of the season ends and Bates has time to escape, he likes to retreat to a barn on his property to paint. Bates specializes in folk art and often uses football as his subject.

James Bates

"I've just always been drawn to art and design,'' Bates said. "I never really had any formal art classes."

Still, Bates is no slouch with the paintbrush. Others have noticed. Tonight at Five Bar Gainesville at 104 S. Main Street (5 to 9 p.m.), the James Bates Art Exhibit opens with a launch party.

For the next month Bates' work will be displayed in the restaurant. With football season about to begin, fans and art lovers will recognize many of the subjects portrayed in Bates' pieces.

"The lighter side of some of these football players and coaches,'' Bates said.

This isn't the first time Bates has had his art displayed publicly, but this will be his most extensive exhibit.

Bates sold some of his work after an art gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., held an exhibit.

He said Jerri Spurrier, wife of former Gators football coach Steve Spurrier, helped boost his confidence as an emerging artist during Bates' career with the Gators in the mid-1990s.

Bates would draw cartoons on the chalkboard in Florida's locker room during his playing days, poking fun at a player or coach to keep the team loose. Jerri Spurrier saw some of his work and asked him to design a T-shirt for the women's swim team.

Bates did. The team liked it, including Bates' future wife, Tina, who was on UF's team at the time.

Bates still has that shirt, plus many more paintings and designs since.

Check out some of his work to be displayed over the next month at Five Bar Gainesville:

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