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COLOUR, LIGHT and SPACE

It seems at first that Martin Battye’s most recent work signals a surprising departure. The drag and push of pigment has been a defining feature of his paintings of the last few years. Leaving behind earlier landscapes, the emphasis on the horizontal and vertical structures remained, as the artist layered and scored impasto paint to create complex striations and disrupted surfaces, the ground re-emerging to complicate the surface.

By early 2018, the old processes had been explored and the artist felt a technical frustration with his methods, though his interest continued in the spatial illusions that colour can play. Away from home, in the French springtime, he was able to indulge a temperamental restlessness and depart from a system of painting that threatened to become a programme. With the freedom to do something else, these new paintings capture both a joie de vivre and a fundamental love of paint.

The works began with a playful undoing of painting, spraying and flecking paint on to paper and board. Battye enjoyed, indeed courted the accidents of working wet on wet – some colours blending, others sitting on the surface as distinct pinpricks of pigment. These smaller experiments are a delight. The hand of the artist is still evident as all of the paint is deftly dripped or flicked from the bristles of a brush. Layers of colour and differences in density create fine, oscillating, fields of colour, mists of light and space. They are strangely representational for compositions so devoid of a focal point or subject, conjuring the vast depths of space or some microscopic miasma. They have a rightness that obscures the decisions or judgements that have been made in the painting, as if they have been captured rather than constructed.

From these light-hearted, thoughtful experiments the larger canvases grew along with his ambitions for the process. In these works the geometric structures remerge, suggesting the line of a horizon or the vertical elements of architecture. They are as much concealed as revealed by layers of colour that tease the eye, appearing to move across the surface like the gentle stirring of a dense mist. Like an optical trick they use colour to conjure light, as if radiant, gently glowing on the walls. With these large canvases the echoes of previous works, never entirely abandoned, can be seen – the play between colour and line, the manipulation of surface effect to achieve illusions of spatial depth.

There are no people in these works and they are resolutely not about the figure. Their relationship to the individual is a relationship to the mind and our capacity to conceive of and consider space. Perhaps this fascination with abstraction and illusion is informed by his interest in the graphic patterns and calligraphy of Islamic art?

I might have been fooled by the easy pleasure of the first glance at Martin Battye’s new work. Yet at each turn in the studio I encountered a work I thought I had not seen before, as if the paintings morphed and rearranged as my back was turned. There is much to see in these works, beneath shifting colours lie depths, more or less hidden and slowly revealed. Taut with colour, attuned to the possibilities of light, these paintings will reward our every look with an alchemy of space.

Amanda Geitner