JAY BATLLE: Days of Wine & Roses
Jay Batlle. Photo by © Graeme Mitchell
JAY BATLLE is an American artist. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the U.S., Germany, France, Dubai, Holland, Italy, Chile, and Britain. His work has also appeared in New York at Exit Art, The Chelsea Museum of Art, and The Dorsky Gallery, at the Ausstellungshalle Zeitgenössische Kunst in Munster Germany, and at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Santiago de Chile.
Interview by Alix Janta-Polczynski
The definition of an epicurean perfectly suits Jay Batlle. He knows how to make the most of life and its delights. The first time I met him in his studio in Brooklyn, while discussing his new paintings, we shared delicious wine and a great selection of cheeses that only a gourmet would have picked. His paintings are rendered on cotton napkins gathered while working in posh eating establishments in New York. His drawings, which question society and its values, unfold upon the hijacked stationery of renowned hotels and restaurants. His work explores the everyday experience of the artist- questioning what is the true meaning of art. In his words: “getting to the top of the social ladder or having enough to eat?”
I read in an interview that your first studio was in your father’s kitchen. Were food and cooking your first creative outputs?
Drawing is something I did as soon as I could hold a pencil. I am always looking and recording, and I need an outlet for this. Drawing is the most immediate way to communicate an idea. I was encouraged by teachers to pursue the visual arts. I was considered talented when I was young. I drew comics at first, then abstract stream of conscious images, weird narratives and I was/am really obsessed with lines. I have always had a very distinctive visual style; this was something in art school that they trained us to disregard. I had to unlearn a lot after school.
Cooking was something I got from my mother, who learned it from her mother; I guess it is in our blood. We are an Italian family, and eating is a way for us to be together. I’m part of a generation of divorces, and latch key kids, middle class families where both parents had to work to pay the mortgage or rent. I was left alone after school, with my younger siblings; we watched a lot of television. I had to be independent from the start. I think when I got a little older I wanted to learn something new, and cooking was an experience I could do after school at home on my own. It was another thing like drawing that I had an intuitive talent for. Being naturally inclined always helps to inspire. I like the immediacy of cooking, and obtaining a result from making something. I still use this approach in my art practice, which now encompasses: drawing, painting, sculpture, and performance.
Sculpture by Jay Batlle
Can you describe how you feel / what you experience while you are creating?
I like to be very organized in my initial approach to creating a piece. I think that even if it ends up chaotic in appearance. I need to set up a structure to follow, much like a recipe. Art making is about a loss of control and the unknown, a creation. But I think it’s less about making, and more about finding. Art is something that the artist repeats over and over trying to achieve a unique result. A cooking recipe is something that you follow to achieve the same thing, an apple pie has to taste like pie. It’s about taste.
When did the transition to art from food happen?
When I first came to NYC from Holland fourteen years ago, an older artist turned me on to W.H. Auden’s The Dyer’s Hand. This tome has an essay called “The Poet and The City.” It gives advice to a young artist starting out, in this case a poet, but any type of artist can use it. The Poet and The City is a guide to live and work in the city with all its financial and social distractions. It talks about how the arts used to be part of society and not superfluous, but intrinsic to social workings. Auden points out how the only art valued by society is cooking, because it is still part of society, it still has a function. He even predicts a coming of a golden age of celebrity chefs, 20 years prior to the food network, chef as cult leader, Ferran Adria asked to Documenta, foodie Alice Waters “locavore” thing. I saw this as a way to make art, and a life in NYC.
When you’re in the midst of creating a new work, do recent culinary discoveries have an influence on your creativity? And if so, what aspect of them?
One of my favorite quotes is “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star” Brillat Savarin. That said I think that my work is less about ideas and eureka moments than I would want to believe. At a certain point the art makes itself, once you have your corral. To paraphrase Baldessari, “there is immense freedom in boundaries.” But I’m always looking at the world, taking walks, reading, and living. The Epicurean is one filter that I use to find the art that I’m looking for, something I relate to, and a way to express the aspirational.
Can creativity be as pleasant as a glass of Burgundy?
Sure, but some things lead to another, and for me a great lunch could lead to a new piece, but it doesn’t have to be so one to one. Sometimes I drink wine just because I’m thirsty, “a cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”
When you daydream, where do you like to let your imagination go?
This used to be a real problem for me. I can get into my head so deep that it’s like the world around me doesn’t exist, and all that matters is my art. It’s very similar to the experience of being high. It’s a natural high that artists have, it can also really be a hindrance to making and finishing work. Daydreaming is the best waste of a life. I let my imagination go to formal structures, beauty in space, in my daydream I escape language.