T J Bateson – Iteration Part II.V
Tacit Contemporary Art
312 Johnston Street Abbotsford VIC 3067
Closed October 16
A CURSORY glance at current, contemporary gallery exhibitions (and the comments of curators and critics who should know better) might lead one to believe that painting is on life-support, out of fashion, is mute with nothing left to say. It seems in today’s art world, if you want to succeed, you need to construct art from found and ready-made objects that can be manipulated, styled, reproduced and displayed with as much techno-trickery as you can find (note: no creation here, just finding and endlessly reinterpreting – a recipe for self-consumption to the point of non-existence if ever there was one). But I digress; my point is that Bateson’s work, happily, disproves that idea.
Sometimes the best thing about art is the initial response you have to seeing it. Iteration Part II.V, by T J Bateson at Tacit Gallery is something to behold. My response is calm. Endless visage. Panorama. An unshaking belief that it’ll all be alright in the end. Bateson’s works – both paintings and prints, are entities of themselves. They ask for nothing – not approval, recognition, permission or acceptance. They just, like those famous monoliths on Easter Island, are. These works are meditative and reflective spaces, they encourage introspection, considered thought, calm and peace. They are salves, gentle oil for the soul. There is no answer here, other than the one you bring yourself. There is no salvation here, other than the one you find for yourself. This makes for a contemplative and near-out-of-world experience.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, these are the latest in a line of works that Bateson has crafted – and will continue to craft into the future. Previous iterations include works that evoke the style of the American abstractionist Gene Davis, other iterations include memories of Rothko, in this spectator. But it doesn’t do to get hung up on comparisons; I only mention these because they provide a convenient way for me to start a dialog with Bateson’s works; my previous reactions to these other works guides me, and perhaps helps me from becoming lost in the language, of mistaking the translation, of misreading the music. There’s majesty and honour in iterating – a continued tradition that recognises the worth of the work, the spark of the idea, the honesty of the concept. Colour in this suite of works isn’t important – line though is, as is a continued rhythm and syncopation that is set up by the flat picture plane, and perspective-less image. This of course, leads the eye and mind to try to create an image from a non-image, and equally predictably, fails to achieve this end. As with all abstract art, Bateson’s works exist as themselves as a record of non-visual response to something, rather than as an image, reproduction or facsimile of something or someone who one has seen. These then, are responses to existence and are the reflection of sentience, knowledge, understanding and sensitivity. They, in many ways, have more in common with musical composition that they do with figurative art it this sense. So, just as a composer plays with our ability to hear, Bateson plays with the our ability to see. He creates visual hooks, rhythms and passages, just as a composer does with notes, chords and melody, that draws us to look, to survey, investigate and through these acts become enmeshed in a dialogue with the image. Once engaged, we are no longer the passive observer for we are provoked into a response, a sophisticated, ethereal response to fundamental material processes.
These works are embedded in the history of western art – they are direct descendants of the likes of Rothko and others, mentioned earlier. In Australia, they evoke in me the late ‘seventies works of Paul Partos and the surface rhythms of Robert Jacks and Lesley Dumbrell. Unlike these last two, Bateson’s works possess a substance that seemed lacking in Dumbrell’s works from the early ‘eighties – you might accuse her of all surface and design without substance – with some justification. Bateson’s works will bear no such label.
The Swiss painter and art teacher Johannes Itten was one of the first masters to be appointed by Walter Gropius at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar. From 1919 to 1923, with the preliminary course which he had developed, Itten influenced the principles of education in design at the Bauhaus. There, he devised a contemporary method of teaching based on insights gained from the progressive educational movement and the artistic avant-garde. Instead of urging his students to start by copying other artworks as was customary at the traditional art academies, Itten encouraged his students to explore their own subjective feelings and to bring creativity to design. He wrote, in Design and Form, his treatise on artistic design, that the basis of composition was really the establishment of contrast and the resulting tensions, balance, and dialogs that contrast creates. In his words, ‘As life and beauty unfold in the regions between the North and South Poles of our planet, so life and beauty are to be found in the graduations between the poles of contrast. In light – dark contrast, the artistic possibility of application lies in the many hues and tone values between black and white. Black and white are points of reversal, not end points of a continuum.’ These works are powerful demonstrations of that concept.
Bateson’s practice and experience provides him with an extraordinary repertoire of techniques and processes that he manipulates to create the subtle, beautifully inflected and resonant surfaces of his works. His art is one that invites contemplation and the sensual enjoyment of the concrete materiality of the work itself. Each, be they works on paper or canvas, structured from ink or paint, in all their inventiveness and rich variety, demand close scrutiny and always repay the viewer with visual pleasure and new insights into the act of looking. Power is this, self-knowledge and peace; an opportunity to recharge, rethink, reassess. I can’t wait for the next iteration.