Born in 1976, Jay Batlle blends his artistic practice with his interest in food – specifically his experiences as a practicing chef. Notorious for finishing works with coffee grounds, food stains and wine, in recent years Batlle has found himself refining his materials with a higher focus on quality acrylics and perfection of technique.
Batlle’s paintings spotlight pleasurable decadence – specifically gourmet, fashion, alcohol and money – to ask the viewer questions about their own indulgences and desires. His work is both a social commentary on our culture and society but also perpetuates the stereotypes and clichés he asks us to look at.
More than anything else, he is also celebrating the simple enjoyment and procedure of preparing food, going out for a meal and indulging in one’s culture. He often layers sections of menus and food-based documentation into his work, and often recreates examples of New York restaurant and cafe signage à la French new wave posters directly over his paintings. The contrast of his subject matter with these blatant commercial images highlights the gulf between idealized life and reality.
Our Artist Manager Aretha Campbell spoke to Jay.
1. What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
JB: I moved around quite a bit, growing up in America. I was catapulted from upstate New York to Phoenix, Arizona. Then I ended up in Southern California in Surf City, U.S.A. On occasion my fractal family would send me back east to stay with my maternal grandparents in Rochester, New York. I can remember seeing Van Gogh and Matisse's work for the first time at Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. Not any specific work comes to mind, but Post-Impressionism was a big wow for my nine-year old brain. My favourite painting at the moment is the "Piano Lesson" by Matisse, at the MoMA. Or Francis Bacon's "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion" at the Tate. My large work "The Studio Visit" which was recently added to Bridgeman Images was inspired by these two artists, and another favourite Ludwig Bemelmans, who is most famous for his Madeline books.
2. Where did you study?
JB: After completing art school at The University of Los Angeles, I won a fellowship to work in Amsterdam, at De Ateliers 63. While exploring Holland I went to the Kroller Mueller Museum and encountered Van Gogh's "Still life with Onions" and Odilon Redon's "The Cyclops." Looking back twenty years later, I feel I had my art education in reverse. I started school studying with conceptual artists like John Baldessari and Meg Cranston in L. A. and worked my way back to the 'old masters'. Marlene Dumas would come to my studio in Amsterdam to say how ugly my work was at the time, but gave me the best advice, paint what you love. I spent a lot of time drinking with the Dutch writer Marcel Vos who had the most amazing collection of exhibition invitation cards in stacks all around his home. And at the time I made formative friendships with the Chilean artist Nicolás Franco Guzman, Basque artist Asier Mendizabal, and Belgium artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer, all of whom I still see on occasion to argue about art.
3. What is your favorite time of day to be in your studio?
JB: The short answer is all the time! I do like mornings now, because my studio in Brooklyn has these amazing windows, and the light is inspiring because it is always changing. I am lucky enough to spend my summers in England and France. I love the experience of very long days at that time of year, and the best part is I get to paint and draw outside. I did most of these new small restaurant menu drawings channeling Warhol's soup cans outdoors in Somerset. And last summer we stayed in Ireland at a beautiful house called Lisnabruka, where I did a whole series of trees after Van Gogh on the house stationery.
4. Food is ever present in your artwork from the menus to the recipes to dinners and performances...How do the two feed off one another?
JB: Most viewers have the desire to read into a painting by way of the personal history of its creator. A gulf exists between this idealized history and the reality of living as an artist. I created my Stationery Series to address this tension. I point out critical aspects of making art as a fulltime occupation with humour and contradictions. I do this by setting up a series of constructed rules and foils, not unlike how a chef follows a recipe, using measured amounts and specific ingredients. Initially I worked only with sculpture and drawing but, then I realized that, as Duchamp says, being “stupid like a painter” was the only way to continue this absurdist journey. In 2008, I started collecting menus from restaurants and hotels, and at the same moment, I turned my studio into a corporation. I thought to use the menus as a starting point, sometimes blowing them up or painting directly on them. This gave me a brand or recognizable style and having my corporation, Jay Batlle Inc., was a way to create my own patronage. I followed this idea through for the last ten years.
5. Which restaurant has most inspired you through their culinary delights?
JB: Very hard question. I would have to say the best restaurant table is my mother-in-law's in the south of France, and in London I am good friends with Joseph Trivelli, the head chef of the River Café, whose home cooking is mind boggling. Joe has a new cookbook about to drop. I highly recommend it.
6. If you could pick five artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
JB: Great question! I guess the romantic answer would be with Francis Bacon at the Wolseley (I'd be curious to see if Francis actually ate, and maybe Lucien Freud or Damien Hirst would show up to join us), or a sushi dinner at Balthus's chateau with David Bowie, which my friend attended, or a famous dinner with Dali in Spain at his house Portlligat, I recently did an eleven-course dinner from his cookbook. Or perhaps the infamous dinner hosted by Martin Kippenberger, in which he served extremely large, black and blue steaks to vegetarians. Finally, I'd loved to have shared a meal with Anthony Bourdain. The "why" would be for the food, the conversation, and the memory of the dinner, maybe more than for their art.
Batlle has exhibitied in New York, Germany, the United Kingdom and Chile (to name a few), and constantly revises his artistic output as his drives and inhibitions change.
Jay Batlle - Official Website