Andrew Batcheller

Andrew Batcheller at Mojo

July 1 — 30, 2011
Visiting the space where the Base Gallery used to be has always been an unusual journey that feels as if you are entering a hidden chamber of secrets. The staircase that leads down into the low-ceilinged basement space of the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center is located in a small passageway at the very back of the gallery. It is a narrow staircase that restricts people to single-file movement, and from the top of the stairs the only thing that can be seen is a small patch of the bare cement floor. You proceed cautiously, unsure of what will be found at the bottom, or even if it is an exhibition space open to the public.

Entering the gallery is like passing through a portal to another world, and perhaps it is coincidence, but the exhibitions hosted in here often complement the mystique created by the space, and the Mojo gallery’s choice is no exception.* Andrew Batcheller’s paintings, which are on display this month, are quite exemplary of this theme by guiding the viewer through a psychedelic realm of the subconscious and the spiritual. His tightly-rendered arrangements of cryptic symbolism placed in stylized, surrealist environments look as if they could be illustrations for one of the books written by the self-proclaimed sorcerer Carlos Castaneda, or the vision one might have after spending a straight week in the wilderness on mescaline.

Andrew Batcheller, “Japan … and it is snowing,” oil on canvas, 28″ 36″, 2011, is part of an exhibition of paintings mounted by the Mojo Gallery. They feature dream-like fantasy scenes containing a richness and purity that make each feel like a precious discovery. Image: photo Matt Kuhlman

Batcheller’s paintings walk a fine line between being cheesy and awe-inspiring, but for most people they should fall firmly on the side of the latter. His style of working is in the same vein as work that might be considered “New Age,” the type of art that might be made by people who heal themselves by laying crystals on their body or believe that real-life problems are caused by warring spirits out in the cosmos. And maybe Batcheller is into that stuff — and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that — but the typical tendency for an artist of the New Age belief is to make incredibly precise, surrealistic scenes of the world and the universe that come off feeling flat and sterile. Perhaps it is a symptom of viewing reality as an illusion that causes so much New Age art to feel this way, but it is not the case with Batcheller’s work. Though he may use a similar aesthetic quality and imagery, one is able to perceive a strong feeling of substance within the work.

Andrew Batcheller, “Gratitude,” oil on canvas, 40″ x 50″, 2011, is one of his more surrealist images in the exhibition. Image: photo Matt Kuhlman

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Andrew Batcheller, “Hope Robust,” oil on canvas, 48″ x 50″, 2011. His paintings contain very purposeful arrangements of animals and imagery that are loaded with symbolic meaning. Although the message of this symbolism is not readily apparent, it by no means detracts from the enjoyment of the work. Image: photo: Matt Kuhlman

The meaning behind the symbols and landscapes in each painting is not immediately decipherable in any of them, but that isn’t important. Everything in Batcheller’s paintings is executed with such sure-handedness, and each piece of the composition fits with the rest of the image so well, that he creates the impression that there is a purpose for everything he paints, whether we understand it or not. Each canvas takes us to a different view of his fantasy realm, and nothing more is required to enjoy the paintings than to take in the swirling organic designs, the precisely crafted animals that inhabit this place, and the expansive colorful landscapes — and wish that they were actually real.

Editor’s notes:
Matt Kuhlman has been writing First Friday reviews since September 2010 and for Review since June 2011. You can read past editions on his blog here.
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