Figurative Abstraction: Gretchen Batcheller at the Weisman Museum

Co-exhibited with Ty Pownall’s sculptural works in Land/MarkGretchen Batcheller's bold and bright oil paintings are currently on view at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art in Malibu.  Viewers to the museum are at once confronted with the beige and ivory tones of Pownall's mixed media sculptures offset by Batcheller’s vivid and inviting paintings. – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor


Gretchen Batcheller | Abstract Generalities, Oil on canvas, 2013. Photograph by Yao Li and Courtesy of The Frederick R. Weisman Museum.


Gretchen Batcheller | Swiftly, Confidently, Stand Behind Me, Oil on canvas, 2013. Photograph by Yao Li and Courtesy of The Frederick R. Weisman Museum.

Her oil paintings range in size from a series of eight small square foot paintings to more monumental six feet ones.  Batcheller's artist residency in Istanbul influenced both the subject and process of her works, while her photographs from her travels inspired the form and color. Vibrant patches of paint abstractly recall certain settings that feel at once foreign and familiar. Swiftly, Confidently, Stand Behind Me, for instance, makes you feel as if you are viewing a motorcyclist or car, speeding down a road.  She reduces the forms of these surroundings and subjects to mere suggestions.  But they are vivid suggestions.  The mixed feelings she conjures in viewers is a combination of allurement, familiarity, and excitement.


Gretchen Batcheller | installation view of Land/Mark
, 2013. Photo by Ellen C. Caldwell.

Her works recall and process tourist memories, travel nostalgia, and the very process of thinking through the cultural code switching that occurs when studying in and experiencing a new, urban locale, whether foreign or domestic. Batcheller boils down the images, places, and subjects she captures into these slight suggestions and vague abstractions, but to me, the real beauty of her work lies in the fact that these paintings are both abstract and figural at the same time.  

They are an enticing conundrum in this sense because they effectively reflect her mental and emotional processes of travel, memory-making, visual memoir-writing, and photo documentation, but they do so in a way that viewers can appreciate on two levels that operate simultaneously: the abstract and the literal.


Gretchen Batcheller | Inner Discourse About Shortcomings, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2013. Photograph by Yao Li and Courtesy of The Frederick R. Weisman Museum.

Her bold, jewel tone color choices amplify the aesthetic experience as well; she creates paintings that function as beautiful objects and story-telling imagery.  Works such as the smaller Inner Discourse About Shortcomings captured my attention immediately.  I wanted to know what I was seeing (prayer flags, colorful laundry, a bright market, or decorative tassels hanging over a landscaped vista?), but at the same time, I didn't care what I was seeing because the painting is so visually satiating and appealing.


Gretchen Batcheller | There Would Have Likely Been An Uproar, Oil on canvas, 2013. Photograph by Yao Li and Courtesy of The Frederick R. Weisman Museum.

In There Would Have Likely Been An Uproar, figures stand about and converse, perhaps at a train station, church, or urban setting, again suggesting something figurative and literal like a crowded public space; yet the actual presence, setting, and aura she creates and conveys in paint suggest anything but those feelings that might accompany a public space. Instead, we as viewers, are welcomed to enjoy and perhaps voyeuristically explore a serene, yet bold world, sheltered by the paint and space between us.

With Batcheller's paintings, the moments of beauty are plentiful and well worth experiencing. Land/Mark runs at the Weisman Museum through January 5th.


Gretchen Batcheller | Husbands and Wives May Sit Together, Oil on canvas. Photograph by Yao Li and Courtesy of The Frederick R. Weisman Museum.


Gretchen Batcheller | installation view of the opening reception for Land/Mark
, 2013.  Photograph by Yao Li and Courtesy of The Frederick R. Weisman Museum.

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Batcheller received her MFA in Painting from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University and received her BFA in Painting and a BA in German Language and Literature, from the University of Washington. She has taught fine art at universities across the U.S., including Tyler School of Art, University of Washington, Denison University, Emory & Henry College, and Pepperdine University. She has participated in national and international exhibitions including shows in Seattle, Philadelphia, Eisenstadt, Austria and Istanbul, Turkey. Recent artist residencies include Istanbul, Turkey and Burgenland, Austria.

The Frederick R. Weisman Museum is open Tuesday - Sunday, 11am to 5pm, and one hour prior to most performances through intermission. Admission is free. Please call 310.506.4851 for more information.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.