Born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1952.
Attended Winchester and Sunderland Schools of Art.
Studied under, among others, John Bellamy and Barry Hirst; worked, for a while with John Latham.
First exhibited in 1967 at the Deben Gallery with, among others, Cavendish Morton. Has continued to exhibit in a number of group shows from the Northern Young Contemporaries, to the Royal Academy Summer Show, the Eastern Open and many others.
Recent solo shows have been at Ashton Graham, in Ipswich, the Chappel Galleries in Colchester, King of Hearts, the Theatre Royal, the University Hospital and Mandell's Gallery in Norwich.
Before starting Kirton Healthcare in 1980, worked variously as a teacher, psychiatric nurse and at sea.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Member of the Court of Anglia Ruskin University, the Norwich 20 group and sits on the committee of the East Anglian Art Fund.
Amanda Geitner writes of Martin's work:-
"To complicate the matter – new work by Martin Battye"
"People experience a great delight in colour, generally. The eye requires it as much as it requires light. We have only to remember the refreshing sensation we experience, if on a cloudy day the sun illuminates a single portion of the scene before us and displays its colours." Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Theory of Colour 1810.
Martin Battye’s work began in a tradition of landscape painting, his art for many years characterised by a bold structure articulated with a vivid palette. In Martin’s new studio in Great Yarmouth early works lean against the walls, as useful reference points to the new. A painting of 40 years ago describes the Deben Estuary under a stormy sky, a brilliant turquoise punching through the sun’s last light at the horizon line. In the brusque handling of impasto paint, this work suggests the landscapes that underpin all but the most recent works.
Also in the studio, a collection of sketchbooks are filled with drawings, their incisive lines of clear black ink testifying to the discipline of close observation, primarily of landscapes. Many of these are the notebooks of travel in England and France and, somewhat surprisingly, there is also sketch after sketch of figures, people that rarely appear in his paintings. These portraits capture likeness faithfully and affectionately. The landscapes however are a careful record of place that nonetheless seem poised to metamorphose into the grid of their horizontal and vertical delineations and in this way they prefigure the carved geometric grids of the artist’s current painting.
Trained at Winchester and Sunderland Schools of art in the late 1960s and early 70s, Martin Battye has consistently painted and exhibited for 40 years. Influential teachers included John Bellamy and Barry Hirst and from their example Martin took a serious and consistent commitment to painting. For many years a career and business in healthcare excluded most other pursuits and painting, though sustained, could not be given his full attention. Through all this time the landscape held the artist’s attention and remained the subject of his work. From 2012 Battye has been able to work full-time as an artist and, in a strange reversal of agency, it seems that not only has the painter been absorbed in his painting, but his paintings have in turn entirely absorbed the painter – allowing him to become immersed in colour so that the recognisable features of landscape have become increasingly irrelevant. The fidelity to the horizontal and evocation of place has been replaced by a more direct engagement with gesture and texture that is satisfying in and of itself.
Work started on this current body of paintings early in late in 2015, immediately on moving to the new studio, and then continued during a prolonged stay in northern Provence in spring 2016. In these two places it seems that an important development in the work occurred. The paintings have become objects entirely in their own right – provoking many sensations but representing nothing but colour and surface. The rules of landscape painting have been, for now, largely abandoned and in their absence Battye is playing for the first time without rules, making up his own.
These most recent works begin with the preparation of a colour ground on which successive, increasingly thick layers of oil (occasionally the works are in acrylic) are applied. The image is the outcome of a sequence of final defining strokes, a swift set of horizontal and vertical gestures that drag across the paint like a kind of rake – these can be made by the artist or a co-opted tool of regular prongs designed to mould decorative plastering. At this stage the carefully planned accidents happen, some of which will be more or less happily anticipated. The outcome of this violent interference to the layers of paint can then be refined, colour added in careful touches or the tone of the surrounding frame revised.
The success of the final act of disruption is the product of years of experience. The artist’s careful orchestration results in extraordinary collisions and eruptions of colour. Strata of colour combine, submerge and emerge. In places these layers come away from the ground giving the works a strange timelessness, as if the forces at work were geological. A given set of methods has produced work of unexpected variety, from smooth, worn surfaces of floating geometry to deeply gouged cliffs of oil.
In these paintings the broader landscape has receded, the horizontals that allowed the idea of a horizon to haunt his works have for now been lost in a more consistent, pulsing grid. Through all this complicated choreography of colour, viscosity and interference, two key considerations remain; colour and texture. Shelves and outcrops of paint cast deep shadows. Their shiny, ridged skins provoke a visceral desire to touch.
The use of colour complicates this reading of the texture, as if a surface turbulence obscures what lies beneath. With an effect like ripples across the surface of a freshwater pool, it is difficult to fathom but you can feel the possible depth. Some works are restrained in colour, attenuated in the texture of their gouged grid, a satisfying play with paint and the light available. Others glory in a riot of colour – heated vermilions, brilliant azure blues, jungle greens. As if a life’s passion could no longer be restrained, Battye has given in to the seductive gorgeousness of colour and in doing so abandoned an ingrained assumption, traced back to his training at art school, that colour for colour’s sake might be dilatant, too decorative. There is in these works a recognition of the pleasure of the colours of the landscapes and architectural decoration encountered in India, Nepal and southern France, environments bathed in dazzling sunlight. Bright light reveals as much as it obscures and some of these works recall the bleaching brilliance and deep concealing shadow of a doorway passed at noon.
The framing of the image remains important, wooden frames with glass have been abandoned, for now. Instead the main work in oil is surrounded by a broad band of colour. Other works are framed by the machined gleam of the bare aluminium that is the painted ground. These frames elaborate the turmoil of the colour centre even further, using the power of a complimentary or contrasting colour to animate the perception of the central arena of paint, or provide the work with a halo of reflected light.
On the studio wall Battye has pinned a reproduction of a colour wheel by the poet Goethe, whose observations on the eye’s experience of colour and our perception of the relationship and effect that one colour has on another, were an early fascination for Battye. A similar analysis of the effect of colour on the eye and mind is beautifully expressed in a description by Vincent Van Gogh writing to his brother Theo from the south of France in the late 1880s:
The people here instinctively wear the most beautiful blue that I’ve ever seen. It’s course linen that they weave themselves, warp black, weft blue, which creates a black and blue striped pattern. When it’s faded and slightly discoloured by wind and weather, it’s an infinitely calm, subtle shade that specifically brings out the flesh colours. In short, blue enough to react with all the colours in which there are hidden orange elements, and faded enough not to clash.
It is a mysterious alchemy of surface rigour and palette that make these works appear to hum with energy, the eye intrigued and led astray by tangled colour. These very clever, crafted paintings are overwhelmingly beautiful. Their brilliance is held in the balance between the skilled manipulation of media and an unalloyed pleasure in colour.
Amanda Geitner June 2016
Writer and Curator, Dr. Helena Golano, writes of Martin's work:-
During the twentieth century, abstract art has been thought of as a suitable place where art forms are shown in their bareness, where historical echoes of the withdrawal of God find one of its fields of expression, a means to consider the aesthetic experience as a representation of the ineffableness.
While these ideas may glide throughthe work of Martin Battye, reviewing his work in the past few years we find that his his paintings project one of the central issues of contemporary art: the distinction between abstract and figurative art as a secondary affair, and that every painting is a battle that is being waged between colour and composition. An iconoclastic battle that breaks through Cezanne's montagne Sainte-Victoire to the black paintings of Rothko, at least.
Martin Battye has gone from landscape painting and hints of landscapes, more or less geometric, to the recent abstract compositions. Yet his artistic demands remain equally strict. His new oil paintings on paper lead us to a reality understood as outline and fragment. With abstract compositions in hardened turquoise blues and Indian yellows, lines that pass through the surface; the artist wants to break the unitary idea of the gaze in front of a painting and mark the incisions of a lifetime.
The fact that we do not find in his work a concrete and cold abstraction but the warmth of large patches of vivid colours, perhaps is due to the influence of 1950s existentialism; a period so important to some artists of his generation. Nowadays art requires the viewer to focus on these core values beyong the issues of genres and themes - possibly it has always been so. The simplicity and lightness of a medium such as paper also helps to understand his artistic work as a laboratory where everything is yet to be done, a place where you have to be open to the surprise of colours and its rhythms. In short, the bare freedom. Because the colour of every moment is a joy.