A conceptual artist living in Brooklyn, Jay Batlle’s Epicurean paintings, drawings, performances and sculptures refer to the gourmet as a source of inspiration and social commentary. Batlle’s work explores “the good life”—success, fortune and abundant sensual pleasures—and the gulf that exists between this ideal and reality. Batlle has exhibited internationally, including the Chelsea Museum and Exit Art, New York; the National Museum of Fine Arts, Santiago de Chile; and the Museum of Liverpool.
Raised in Manitoba and Oregon, Graeme Mitchell is a Los Angeles artist whose work spans video, drawing, painting, sculpture and photography. Mitchell worked for a decade as a portrait photographer in New York before transitioning to personal art. His commercial portraits have appeared on the pages of The New York Times, The New Yorker, W, Interview, Dazed and Confused and Tank. Mitchell’s debut exhibition, Das Ding, opened in 2015, showing his work from 2012–2014.
Noted for his contributions to minimalism beginning in the 1960s, artist Donald Judd’s ‘specific objects’ used simple, often repeated forms to explore space and the use of space without compositional hierarchy. His seminal 1964 paper of the same name made him the foremost theoretician of the movement.
A multi-media artist whose practice spans performance, video, sculpture and neon, Nauman was one of the most influential artists to emerge in the 1960s. His work confronts the nature of communication and language’s inherent problems, as well as the artist’s role as communicator and manipulator of visual symbols.
Jay Batlle and I have had a continuous, incessantly-focused conversation going for nearly six years now—always about art. We began as neighbors in Brooklyn, and now that we live far apart we talk on the phone, usually while Jay is driving home from his studio in Jersey City and I’m at mine in Los Angeles. Recently, I interviewed him over the phone about his new, extensive body of work, The Restaurant Stationery Series.
Graeme Mitchell: I’ve noticed in your bio that you’re a sixth-generation artist, and I’ve never asked you about that. Did you grow up around art? Give me some background.
Jay Batlle: Well, maybe it is a joke to say “sixth-generation conceptual artist,” but when I attended art school in the mid-’90s my instructor introduced herself as a “fourth-generation conceptual artist,” and I was trained in a very “conceptual art” way. Which is to say we didn’t focus on technique or process so much as what it meant to create, considering the context and the audience, and why it had a place historically. I was taught this way of thinking and working in art school—there were things you just don’t do and students learned how to “speak” about art. It was amazing and mind blowing. I loved it. It was like finding God. Before art school, I was a skater kid who could draw. Growing up in Southern California, I never set foot in a museum of contemporary art or an art gallery before undergrad. I played water polo in high school. I was the captain of the team and into Minor Threat. I was copying the Impressionists as well as Van Gogh and of course Dali. I thought if you could mimetically draw an image you were good! I think most artists start out this way.
My mother was an interior designer who changed the furniture so much that sometimes I would come home and think I was in the wrong house. My father was the number one car salesman for Rolls Royce and Bentley. I got to drive in a line of ninety Bentleys to break the Guinness world record for the longest, consecutive line of Bentleys. My stepfather was a truck driver who paid me in Del Taco bean burritos to be his assistant driver. That’s how I saved up enough money to pay for art school—trucking. So I can really relate to this story I once read: when [artist] Mike Kelley told his father that he was going to school to become a professional artist, his father responded by ripping his own hair out.
“Art is mostly about control.
As I get older, I realize this more and more.”
— Jay Batlle
GM: This idea of “where we come from is a big part of the material we mine” wasn’t exactly popular with the conceptual scene of that time, was it?
JB: I was at art school when identity politics and post-minimalism were running the paradigm. We all wanted to be conceptual artists, and an artist’s personal history was frowned upon as content. We were supposed to remove the hand—let others “fabricate” the art so we can talk about work or learn how to complain. Everything was formally two parts Donald Judd and one part Bruce Nauman. Context was probably the most important aspect. Personal pathos was far too romantic or too ’80s.
GM: Your work has always felt immediate to me—a defined projection rather than a searching. Do you see it in terms of looking outward versus looking inward?
JB: I wanted my art to be an extension of my life. It’s somehow both inward and outward, if that makes sense. I really think a lot about what I am doing—maybe too much at times—but some things just happen from working full time, and maybe that’s the inspiring part. Art is mostly about control. As I get older, I realize this more and more. When you are young and first starting out, you try to fight this, or at least I did. I remember [artist] Jan Dibbets coming into my studio in Amsterdam one morning and asking me, “Who’s in charge in here? You need to be a general in control of his army when it comes to your art and studio. Right now, the work is in control and you’re just an army private.”
GM: So Dibbets is saying that control is the confidence and faith to select a course. That is really what we do, isn’t it—choose one thing to care about and spend a lot of time with it? Once the work becomes about a bunch of things or, most dreadfully, about just wanting to be an artist, then it looses its sharpness.
JB: Yeah, he was kicking my ass and saying, “Grow up. You are in charge, not the art.”