The artist known as Ed Bats adopted a pseudonym during his days as a graffiti artist, covertly painting murals on streets around Aotearoa and across Europe. Perhaps as a result, Bats’ works are imbued with a certain architectural quality that is evident in both their physicality and construction.
Bats combines hard-edged abstraction with a minimalist aesthetic to create works that push at the limits of composition and form. His careful and constant working and re-working is laid bare in every stroke of paint, each exacting line or gesture. Often entire paintings are virtually obliterated, their surface painted over leaving only glimpses of the anterior colour and form beneath; similar to a graffiti wall that has been repeatedly whitewashed. Other works see a meticulous layering of vertical forms that have the appearance of architectural planes or structures stacked one behind another. This exhibition also sees a shift in physicality and scale; large canvasses with great swathes of flat vivid colour immerse the viewer and lend an optical quality to the works.
Many works are more akin to objects than paintings. The artist often incorporates second-hand furniture and household items into his practice – from window blinds to coffee tables – to create assemblages that oscillate between painting, sculpture, and installation. With a love of design and reviving vintage furniture, Bats revels in the process of making and constructing – from stretching his own canvases, to fabricating custom-made frames.
While usually preferring to let his work do the talking, we asked Ed Bats some questions, and in a rare moment of disclosure, he answered them:
How do you situate your current painting practice in relation to your graffiti?
They still inform each other on a daily basis. It’s quite tricky to summarise, but embracing and being involved in the graffiti culture enabled me to explore new materials, surfaces and ways of viewing the urban landscape. The visual language I developed over the decade or so of painting out in a public domain has comfortably transitioned into the studio for me. A lot of graffiti artists turned studio artists tend not to talk about it very often but I would be remiss if I denied the impact it has had on the work I am producing right now. While graffiti definitely has its set of unwritten rules I always felt like it completely lacked a certain academic scrutiny and that allowed me to be more experimental with my output, or perhaps just care less about other opinions.
When / how / why did you make the move from wall to canvas?
As part of the habit no surface went untouched. I explored every material to create work on from an early age so eventually settling on the traditionally accepted texture of canvas was not too crazy of a change.
Further to that, how do you feel about presenting work in domestic / private rather than public space?
I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I used to paint graffiti and wall pieces purely for myself and people immediately involved in the culture. So I never really considered the public's opinion on its artistic value. So I suppose since I’ve started showing work in a gallery context I think I have been thinking about the presentation aspect more so than in the past.
Name three art influences.
Graffiti removal specialists, Don Driver, Richard Diebenkorn.
Name three other key influences (music, design, cultural etc etc).
I’m a big fan of Warp records. Boards of Canada have been in my studio for a very long time. Most things mid-century modern, particularly American architecture from the 50’s and 60’s. It is simplicity done well. It would also be fair to say working in carpentry construction for some time had a big influence on me especially when it comes to the craftsmanship involved in art making.
What do you love / find most interesting about painting?
I don’t find painting particularly romantic, and for most part it can be a frustrating experience. But I do like to set myself up with problems to solve within every painting and it’s the solution that I take most enjoyment out of.
You clearly have a love of modernist furniture. Describe a piece of furniture / designer of your dreams?
I won’t say no to a few pieces from the Memphis Group, especially their early 80’s furniture. At the moment I am particularly fond of Studio Supaform out of Russia, who obviously won’t say no to a piece from the Memphis Group either.
What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
A comfortable chair.
Do you explore any particular themes in your work?
I’d be lying if I said there was one central theme, but I find myself thinking about really isolated parts of the country quite a lot, particularly in the lower parts of Westland. I have encountered a calm there that really sits well with me. I do strive for some element of tranquillity in my work and I best connect with that idea by exploring more minimalist aesthetics in art and design. (I guess my paintings are abstracted renditions of these places and their isolation. If you catch my drift?)
Tell us about the exhibition title Bootleg Utopia.
All these works were made during the lockdown and like many other artists it had me thinking quite a lot. Being a born cynic I could not help but think about the gloomy state of things around the world and how as humans for most part we dream of some kind of utopia. What we collectively appeared to have created is a very bootleg version of this utopia. It is one of those titles. I just had that on my mind, but the work is not really linked to the social issues. If anything the paintings are still an exploration of mine into the divided love I have for the act of painting and my desire for minimalism. I want to keep painting, but I am actively trying to avoid chaos. So I hope these paintings can show that.