David Batchelor – Flatlands
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Last week I popped in for a last look at the David Batchelor show that has been running at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh for the last few weeks. I had also attended the artists talk in conversation with Andrea Schlieker at the show opening so I have had time to get to know the work through revisiting and reflection over the period. Batchelor seems to me to be a very interesting artist for a wide range of OCA students. Our small but select sculpture student group might know him for his neon sculptures, but this show was of drawing, mixed media work and painting. I would also think that his gleeful adoption of the colours of the wider visual culture and his use of pattern and repetition make him of interest to vis comms and textiles?
David Batchelor lectures in critical theory at the Royal College and writes and talks very well in a way which is accessible and slightly self deprecating but erudite and perceptive (rather like his work). His book, Chromophobia, about our relationship to colour in art and life, supports his framing of his own artistic journey in terms of a kind of Judy Garland / Wizard of Oz transformation from sepia to technicolour as he shed the influence of his art school indoctrination. His work is colourful and funny, but humane and contemplative as well. The drawings and paintings are formal arrangements and quite minimal – a kind of organic minimalism. At the artist’s talk one woman asked Batchelor if he was a Buddhist. Strangely enough, his brother is, but I can see how the question arose. He utilises the innate qualities of paint (pouring and drying) and allows these qualities to make the art work. He has a system for allowing the paint to dry and wrinkle without cracking or blistering. The furrows and ridges of the drying paint form what look like very skilfully manipulated surfaces of grids and swirls whilst actually being largely the product of chance. Batchelor quotes Frank Stella as saying that his aim was ‘to make the paint look as good as it does in the tin’.
He has a love of ‘low’ materials and avoids good quality paper in favour of office stationary for his drawing. His sculptural materials include feather dusters and plastic gloves. His paintings are made on large sheets of aluminium, part of a method he has developed to maintain the feeling of tipping paint around on cardboard through into a larger scale (the aluminium stays rigid at larger sizes than card can).
Anyone working with grids, geometry, minimalism, gesture, found marks, chance, the everyday or above all colour would do well to explore the work of this clever and enjoyable artist.