The artist Jay Batlle in his studio (Courtesy Jay Batlle)
NEW YORK — It was Peking Duck that first piqued an 11-year-old Jay Batlle’s interest in the culinary arts. As a pre-teen, his first studio was the kitchen in his Phoenix home, where he lived with his father and learned how to make the iconic Chinese dish from celebrated chef Ken Hom. But experimenting with food proved to be just the birth of the latent artistic streak in Batlle (pronounced “battle”), who soon started drawing, painting and sculpting as well — and couldn’t stop.
Now 37 and known as the epicurean painter, Syracuse, N.Y.-born Batlle is interested in exploring “the good life” — success, fortune, and an abundance of sensual pleasures — and the gulf that exists between this ideal and reality. The artist subverts the gourmet experience into social commentary, mostly on the interchangeability of wealth and power, and the blurring of boundaries between the two as it relates to indulgence and excess. He’s also done this with food performances, such as in “Parties of Six or More” at the Nyehaus in May 2012, where he showed drawings and a sculpture as he served 1,500 oysters — shucking most of those himself — and copious amounts of wine to the 250 visitors who came to his opening.
At the opening of his current solo exhibition “Between Meals” at the Bleecker Street Arts Club on February 27, he performed his “Anti-Social Pasta Performance,” during which he served guests 37 lbs. of pasta in an anchovy cream sauce from 6 to 8pm. “The idea was to give everyone bad breath,” he told BLOUIN Artinfo. The suspectedly-unsuspecting guests feasted on other art, such as a video Batlle took of himself pouring US$5,000 worth of red wine — gifted to him from a good friend and collector of his work — down the sink. “It’s an homage to Chelsea and the recent flooding from Hurricane Sandy that destroyed a lot of art,” explained Batlle, who named the work “Apres Le Vernissage” and set it to Brahms’s Intermezzo opus 117 no. 1.
Also showing at “Between Meals” are sculptures, including “No Beginner’s Luck” (2012), a cast resin and steel sculpture displayed in the rooftop garden, and a metal cast of the bone of the leg of ham that he previously sliced up for audiences in “Batlle Reserva Performance” at the Clages Gallery Cologne in 2011. Taking center stage, however, are his layered compositions titled “Stationery Series,” where he blows up an iconic restaurant’s stationery or menu — examples include The French Laundry, Momofuku, Le Train Bleu and La Grenouille (at which Batlle admits to never having eaten) — then doodles or paints on them with watercolors, oil sticks, wine, coffee, and even squid ink. And in the spirit of a true epicurean adventure, Batlle revealed exclusively to us that behind each of those paintings resides a recipe, and buyers of the paintings will be, let’s just say, in for a treat.