Dilettante’s Diary

October 17, 2011 Article by Patrick Donohue: dilettantesdiary.com
This artist (whom I know a little from various encounters on the Toronto art scene) could well be one of Canada’s most distinguished watercolourists.

Landmarks (Art) by Tony Batten; Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto; was on exhibit until October 28, 2011.

The First Snowballs of Winter

If you find yourself some day overwhelmed by the bustle at Yonge Street and St. Clair Ave, you might well head a block north to the art gallery at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church. (The gallery’s in the section that joins the north and south church buildings.) That’s where I recently found an oasis of calm and beauty on a blustery fall day, thanks to the art work of Tony Batten. www.anthonybatten.com

This artist (whom I know a little from various encounters on the Toronto art scene) could well be one of Canada’s most distinguished watercolourists. Not only is he an elected member of the elite Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, but he’s one of the few Canadians to have a watercolour chosen for the Queen’s collection at Windsor Castle. In this show, though, he displays his prowess with acrylics. Twenty-one paintings offer everything from the simple to the complicated, the large to the small, the serene to the hectic.

A couple of my favourites are charming little scenes from France. A storefront in Paris shows a door that’s just partly open and the dark interior beyond it beckons with great mystery and allure. A simple scene on a terrace in front of a house – just a table with a white cloth, a couple of chairs and luscious foliage hanging overhead – makes you smell the wine that’s waiting to be sipped. What I especially like about these two paintings is that the execution is so simple: just a few bold strokes of paint provide all the atmosphere and detail you need. An evocative effect is achieved in a similar way in a painting of two Toronto street cars passing each other: the iconic red and white vehicles, some slashes of yellow overhead representing traffic signals and the surrounding buildings just vaguely suggested.

Other paintings glory in a more showy and meticulous technique. Sprawling views of Newfoundland teem with details of boats, houses and gardens. A scene from Lake Superior shows waters pouring over rocks in a frenzy But it’s perhaps for his masterful depictions of great buildings that Mr. Batten is most renowned. Several large paintings of historical sights in Europe look like sets for vast operatic productions. One of them is of the Scuola Grande di San Roccco, in Venice. Mr. Batten has also done a watercolour rendering of this scene and, if you want to read my rave review of that painting, you can find it on the Dilettante’s Diary page dated Oct 22/09, under the title “Treasures”. Grand as the acrylic version is, something about the watercolour appeals to me more. It seems to me that the transparency of that medium gives the Scuola setting more of a luminous quality than can be achieved with acrylics.

Which is not to say that the paintings in this show lack their unique appeal. In fact the centrepiece, of the collection, the painting that hits you when you walk in the door, casts an irresistible spell. Entitled “The First Snowballs of Winter” it shows the very part of Toronto where the gallery stands. You can see two churches at Yonge and Heath, including Yorkminister Park. Mr. Batten has captured perfectly a brooding, sombre look to the atmosphere but it’s marvelously offset by the bright jackets and knapsacks of the youths throwing snowballs across the street at each other. Quite fittingly, this painting has been chosen for reproduction on a charitable Christmas Card by The Printing House and proceeds will be distributed to national programs for children’s nutrition. You can find more information about the card at www.tph.ca