||from the magazine:
|Magazin d'Art (International Magazine)
Autumn/Fall 2009, no 85
|PAINTING THE BUILT
ENVIRONMENT by Noel Meyer
J. Batten has spent much of his artistic life painting
the built environment, first in watercolours, then
in oils and now in acrylics. For most of his working
life he taught art history and then as his reputation
as an artist became established he also started giving
He has painted the boulevards of Paris and the canals
of Venice as well as street scenes in Turkey, Britain,
Belgium, Germany, Canada, Italy and Greece and icebergs
and marinescapes in the Arctic, to say nothing of
the older parts of Ontario, Cape Cod, and Quebec.
A past president of the Canadian Society of Painters
in Watercolour, CSPWC, once described Batten as “one
of the few modern interpreters of the 18th and 19th
century traditions of travelling artist.”
On the Grand Tour…The
Doge’s Palace, Venice, acrylic, 36 x 36
I go anywhere I always drop in on a building. I love
gothic revival buildings like the Library of Parliament.
I just love built space. I would have loved to create
Along the way he has served as the president of the
CSPWC and had its juried Jubilee Collection exhibited
in London and accepted into the Royal Collection in
1985, taught at the Canadian School in Cambridge for
two years and exhibited on four continents.
He has also worked for C.B.C. as a demonstrating artist
and designed and painted theatre sets. This is a somewhat
bald account of his achievements.
Batten’s career may be described as one which
has been affected by more than a little serendipity.
He is largely self-taught, except that he did study
under Arthur Lismer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Museum School. He also attended the École des
Beaux Arts in Montréal and Sir George Williams
but mostly he studied art history and tool a teaching
degree at the University of Toronto.
He also once interviewed at the architecture school
at McGill only to be told as he explained his passion
for old buildings, “We are no longer building
Renaissance Stair Tower, Chateau of Bois, France, watercolour,
30 x 22 in. Private Collection.
is almost as if realizing that he couldn’t build
them Batten then set out to memorialize them in paint.
“My style is quite traditional, loose realism.
Someone once kindly described it as romantic realism
but it is very traditional work. The stuff I like doing
is generally centered on some kind of architectural
element. I’m working on one at the moment, the
interior of a Baroque church in Munich.”
Houses in Kent, England,
watercolour. 22 x 30 in. Private Collection
audience can connect with Batten’s work because
his themes are all ones that we have seen, the streets
of our own older neighbourhoods and the streets and
monuments of those abroad.
Batten’s natural inclination for the built environment
and his interest in art married when C.I.L., where his
father worked as an engineer, commissioned him to execute
first a series of drawings of buildings in Old Montréal
and then a map of the district during the mid 1960’s.
Tourists in Taormina,
Italy, watercolour, 22 x 30 in. Private Collection.
|It was a time when the area was
derelict. “It was a case of just drawing the buildings
and then someone said why don’t you put some colour
in and I started using watercolours and then a lovely
gentlemen saw me sketching one day and he gave me my
first show at the Galerie Place Royale.”
In 1968 Batten moved to Toronto
to study and remained there to teach at the high school
and eventually the university level. In 1998 he retired
from teaching to devote himself to painting.
Church of San Franceco, San Miguel
de Allende, Mexico,
watercolour, 22 x 30 in. Private collection.
He describes his transition to full time artist as both
liberating and seamless. “It was wonderful. I
didn’t miss teaching at all" Over the years
he joined a number of artists' organizations and taken
part in numerous group and society shows. These connections
had in turn produced invitations to exhibit in galleries
but at the time he didn't feel that he had enough paintings
for a big show. Now he has gallery representation for
both his watercolours and acrylics.
Church of San Franceco, San Miguel
de Allende, Mexico, pencil.
|Batten's palette fluctuates according
to where he is. Travel still plays a large part of his
plans. "I'm lucky, I have a partner who works for
Air Canada." This summer he had already travelled
to Italy twice for long painting weekends and was on
his way to the Maritimes and Gaspe for a week with a
group of artists when he was interviewed.
The Olive Grove (The Koroni
Penninsula, Greece), acrylic, 24 x 36 in. Private
He produces roughly 60 works a year,
more or less evenly divided between acrylics and watercolours.
He is known for his mastery of light and texture.
"I think light and texture are what painting
is all about."
"I used to work in oils but my studio is in my
apartment and there is the smell and the drying time.
I am now really happy working in acrylics. For years
I hated them, the bright bright colours. The early
acrylics were really harsh colours and I think to
some extent because I was a self-taught artist, I
wasn’t very comfortable experimenting with them.
And also, the galleries weren’t very accepting
of them 30 years ago.”
just like the fact that I can work on them at home and
then when I am on the road I paint in watercolours all
the time. Increasingly I am working in acrylics. I just
love the fact you can correct all your errors, which
can be many.”
Batten, like many other watercolour artists, is frustrated
by the way his preferred medium is seen. “The
other thing is the public response. Because they are
on canvas the public tends to see oils and acrylics
as real paintings and it’s frustrating. Right
now the watercolour market is pretty dead. Also, decorators
don’t want glass.”
Early Snowfall, watercolour,
22 x 30 in. Private collection.
Sometimes Batten’s choice of medium will
be dictated by the size he sees the finished work
in. “If it’s a subject I want to work
really large it will be acrylics. It’s so
hard to get paper in large sizes and just sometimes
I don’t want to see the image under glass.”
For Batten, each medium feeds off the other. “Sometimes
I do it in acrylics and get the effects I want and
then learning from that I will sometimes do it in
watercolours because I have already planned out
all the shade and light pieces.”
His watercolours are masterworks capturing as they
do light, texture, shade, and shape and his acrylics
look remarkably like his watercolours.
Batten has written several books about painting
and for a time worked doing architectural renderings.
He also led a number of workshops. While the recession
put an end to his practice in architectural renderings,
he deliberately decided to put a stop to the workshops
because he wanted more time to paint. And that,
judging by the work, was a good decision.
Anthony J. Batten is represented
by the Westmount Gallery, Toronto: O'Connor Gallery,
Toronto and the Rick Moore Fine Art Gallery, Naples
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