Walter Battiss: Abstract - SOLD
Walter Battiss (1906 – 1982)
Oil on canvas
33,5 x 40 cm
Signed bottom left
Sold - 2011
The most striking aspect of Walter Battiss’ oeuvre is the African-ness of it – he was not satisfied with merely illustrating or copying, but interpreted Africa with all its mysteries, symbolism and imagery. He was inspired by the rock art of the San people and it dominated his stylistic development in terms of content and symbolism. Battiss believed artists should draw inspiration from their indigenous environment, and said, I have a terrible feeling that South Africa has got to start its art all over again and not imitate what’s happening in Europe, from art books or the art scene over in America .
With his chameleon-like versatility, invigorating vitality, and sheer sense of adventure, Battiss was the perfect artist – forever open to new influences and contemporary developments, his expressive approach never stagnated. He significantly explored abstract painting in the early 1950’s, and continued to develop new themes and stylistic variations throughout his career. His work can be described as a synthesis of the non-representational traditions of modern European art and the graphic and figurative traditions of rock art, which he studied intensively. His unique and recognizable signature style is characterised by its juicy paint application, sgraffito mark-making and vibrant palette.
Battiss’ creative process was always playful and very experimental, allowing for chance, while cautiously controlling the process. Nonchalantly, he indirectly mocked his predecessors’ serious easel approach. He occasionally took to his garden, investigating the intrinsic detail of the condensed composition observed through a rolled paper cylinder. With boyish enthusiasm he remarked; this process of seeing confusion, and then eliminating it to something very simple, is what art is about .
Evident in this non-figurative abstract painting, is the confidence with which Battiss used his palette knife and brush, echoed by the contemplated and somewhat odd balance of the composition. Abstract ideas, he believed, not only exist in the minds of their creators, but can also live on to become an essential part of reality. Skawran notes: [In] his application of paint, Battiss was clearly guided both by intuition and intellect. The physical pleasure in this creative act, of physically transforming vibrant colours and textures into animated images of primordial force, reflects a rare harmony between body and mind .
Throughout his career, Battiss was fascinated by opposing concepts, believing that they ultimately cancel each other out and create a universal timelessness and agelessness. Skawran explains the artist’s philosophy: there is positive time and negative time and they cancel each other out for ever… there is negative space and positive space, cancelling themselves out for ever and ever .
Jillian Carman & Susan Isaac (Eds), Walter Battiss: Gentle Anarchist: a retrospective exhibition catalogue, Johannesburg, 2005
Karin Skawran & Michael Macnamara, Walter Battiss, Craighall, 1985, pp 13, 16 and 19