9 – 30 August 2008
The exhibition includes woodcut prints from the late 1940s and early 50s, silkscreens made after Walter Battiss’s visits to Germany and London (late 1960s/early 70s), and later silkscreen prints.
Walter Battiss visited Germany between April and October 1969 on invitation of the Deutscher Akademische Austauschdienst. He met master printer Josef Kroll in München and experimented with silkscreen printing. One of the screen prints on exhibition clearly shows the annotations in the margins that Battiss made and his initials, as well as notes about the choice of colour and the size of the image made in German. These prints have not been exhibited before, nor have they been illustrated in the various books about Battiss, or included in the 2005 retrospective exhibition of his work. What is striking about them is the use of photographs in the screen printing process. Battiss continued his experimentation with the photographic processes of screen printing when he met Chris Betambeau of Advanced Graphics in London later in 1969. Betambeau was master printer to such eminent British artists as David Hockney, Allen Jones, Victor Vasarely, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, R. B. Kitaj, and Richard Hamilton.
The photographs Battiss uses in his German prints are mainly street scenes in the various cities he visited (Düsseldorf, Hamburg and München) and they all include some form of writing, usually in the background of the photo. Battiss ‘walks’ these streets by means of art and language, a very important relationship in the conceptual art at the time. The magazine, Art and Language, was started in London by Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin at the time when Battiss met master printer Betambeau.
Language also underscores the group of coloured woodcuts on exhibition, dating from the late 1940s and early 50s. Relatively unknown, these woodcuts have seldom been illustrated or included in exhibitions (except Seaside Sport, 1948, illustrated in Skawran and Macnamara, 1985:52, and in Skawran, 2005:119). In experimenting with this medium, Battiss used oil paint instead of ink. Each application of a new colour of oil paint obtained a special effect for each woodcut print he pulled. The subject matter of these woodcuts seem to be referring to rather abstract African symbols, similar to those of the Bushman rock art Battiss was studying at the time.
Battiss’s woodcuts are part of the larger social text that he creates in and through his work. In addition, these prints question the origins of language, the very alphabet constituting such a language. Battiss indefatigably explored the creative potential of a visual language derived from rock art throughout his life: he encoded a language; devised his own language; and expanded his visual language, particularly in the various screen prints on exhibition. He plays with art and language: inscribed in one screen print are the words ‘Child playing with the leg of a broken statue’. His alphabet, his language has become, like the title of one of his screen prints, Flying Angels.
Text extract from exhibition essay by Wilhelm van Rensburg
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