ABSTRACT IMPERSONATIONS ten paintings by David Bateman
Opening Friday May 7, 2021 until May 30
Virtual Gallery here
I’d rather risk an ugly surprise than rely on things I know I can do.
One of the most striking of abstract art’s appearances is her nakedness, an art stripped bare.
My paintings are in drag.
At the heart of abstraction there is often impersonation. Not always a form of impersonation the artist might have intended, but impersonation nonetheless. And at the heart of impersonation lies representation. We can’t get away from it, as hard as we try. And it isn’t really up to the artist to decide, is it? Isn’t it the viewer – each and every one – who makes the final decision, for themselves and no one else.
When I laid nine canvases on the basement floor and dropped random – perhaps a little guided by the designating hand, and in designation we find conscious/unconscious design – I had no clear sense of what would happen. I was using up old paint, getting a base coat for finished canvases I had no tangible idea of – how they would look, what they would be. And when I found the “risk” of Frankenthaler’s quotation, before I knew the quotation existed, I saw something I initially found quite ugly. But something about that so-called ‘ugliness’ in some of my paintings appealed to me.
So I left the canvases alone – in the half light of the sunroom – until I could decide whether there was something vivid and, perhaps beautiful, in what I first saw as a quality of the grotesque. And I have always entertained a fascination with that fine line between the beautiful and the grotesque.
And then I wiped, brushed, splattered – what have you – them into a final form.
Once ‘completed,’ with the help of a viewer I invited into the backyard for a cocktail on a warm spring day, or through a facetime with white wine chat with Laurel, I found, for lack of a better word, beauty. One viewer said she saw saints in five of the pieces. She had been reading about saints. So she bought one. So I called three of those paintings ‘The Saints’ – the one I liked the least I painted over and it became the text painting in this show entitled, “AREA CLOSED FOR / MAINTENANCE AND CLEANING / DUE TO FECAL MISHAP” (from ‘Impersonating Flowers’ 2007, Frontenac House Press, Calgary – ‘Found Haiku’ at the West Edmonton Mall Waterpark).
I once admired a friend’s abstract sculpture, stared at it for too long, and suddenly I found a Diseny’esque rabbit in the middle of it. A friend stared at an abstract I once owned and saw Sponge Bob.
Bob and the bunny were most certainly not what the artist’s intended. But they were there – in that mass of abstraction, impersonation, representation, and a viewer with a keen eye for rabbit ears. Have you seen Bugs Bunny in drag? He is gorgeous.
My favourite scene in the Basquiat biopic is when a buyer wants something to go with the furniture. I feel both repelled and attracted to the idea of art as home décor. The epigraph in my first collection of poetry, ‘Invisible Foreground’ reads – I am blighted by home décor.
I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of things, fine furniture in particular. Who doesn’t -really.
Apparently, Frankenthaler resisted some of the designations regarding menstrual imagery in her work. I have heard that Georgie O’Keefe felt somewhat scandalized by all the attention to the ‘flower as vagina’ that she felt didn’t really relate to her work and her intention. Motherwell seems to have felt the need to give art a feminine pronoun and declare “her” nakedness.” In a relatively recent exhibit at the AGO Lee Krasner was described as being well known as Jackson Pollock’s wife. How absurd. She was a brilliant abstract expressionist painter. Enough said.
I give you my impersonations, and I name some of them through my poetry and prose. Feel free to name and re-name them according to what you can see and what you can feel – because of and in spite of the titles, they are all abstract impersonations.
In a sense, they are all in ‘drag.’
1 Two of the text paintings are quotes from the poetry collection ‘Impersonating Flowers,’ 2007, Frontenac House Press, Calgary. The text ‘alone, in the half-light of my kitchen, I am haunted by dishwater’ is from the performance monologue, ‘Salad Days,’ Ordinary Press, Peterborough, 1997
2 “The sailing wasn’t easy. Frankenthaler was often belittled, her work called merely decorative. Critics said she made pretty wallpaper. Her marriage to A-list artist Robert Motherwell was often sniggered about, as was her five-year relationship with the critic Clement Greenberg. Charges of being a privileged rich girl were common, as were the laughably literal readings of her work, which said she was “about menstruation and the liquid world of the feminine.” Frankenthaler had to read dismissals of her work, often contrasting it with Pollock’s, like this: “Her work excites without quite satisfying … she can make a paint-mass spurt like a dike and yet control it till it laps the canvas like a spent wave.” Others fretted over the differences between ejaculation and menstruation. (Oy.) Yet Frankenthaler’s formal accomplishments somehow broke free of all of this.”