Theresa Batty Essay by Robin Rice

Theresa Batty Essay by Robin Rice

Theresa Batty
Winter 2003 CGCA Fellow

Though Batty might be called a “jack-of-all-trades, she is truly the master several and glass is one. A winter, 2003 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, the Canadian artist does not regard herself as primarily a “glass person.” She paints with encaustic on wood, studied film and is a professional photographer. She has worked in Hollywood, and more important from the glass perspective, as a staff photographer for glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Much of her training and experience as a sculptor in Sweden, Denmark, and Seattle was centered around glass, often combined in some way with photography, though not necessarily her own. Archival black and white photographs, typically found family photo-album snapshots, are embedded “like fossils” in blocks of glass or other domestic objects cast in glass, including real washboards and house shapes. The photographs float as if in water, sometimes deliberately distorted, and perhaps joined by distorted reflections of the viewer.

At CGCA, Batty chose not to work with photographs. She focused, instead, on two bodies of work, both are minimal and color-oriented. One, consists of smallish vertical blocks of sand-cast glass, each a good size to pick up in one hand. Each is a simple color-based geometric painting, complete in itself. There is a sense that the grid determines these soft-focus geometries, but color is paramount. “I think of these as little paintings. I want to use the frozen liquid quality of that depth.”

“The advantage of not being from a glass tradition is doing things a little unexpectedly.” Each “painting” was cast in a sand mold about three inches deep. Such open-faced molds present a front and a back. Reversing the usual order of color casting, Batty first pours a thin transparent layer, the front, which takes on the diffuse texture of sand. Color is added as a block with inclusions of sand-blasted wafers. These read as shapes in the final work. More color in the form of ground glass is applied heavily to the open back of the casting. The finished object changes in appearance as light and the viewer change positions, enabling Batty, “to use the frozen liquid quality of that depth.”

Nearly all the painting/objects are just two colors: red and white; orange and pink; dark blue and jade green; but the color which occurs most often is a soft blue-green inspired by the famous “turquoise milk” color of Lake Louise: “my favorite color since childhood.” Batty, a dedicated competitive rower, has intense memories of the colors of water–mostly icy– and of terrain: “the landscape of Denmark, unspoiled Northern Canada, Greenland, the Alaskan tundra.” Her experience as a pilot informs her affinity for these geographically specific colors and, “There is this beautiful thing that happens at twilight or night: Lights at night have this consistent apricot orange. They are like little jelly candies.” The grouped blocks have a pictogram-like linguistic quality, and will probably be displayed as diptychs or triptychs, perhaps displayed on a shallow shelf where they can catch the light from all sides. “What happens with light and optics is what attracts me to glass,” Batty explains.

A second project, intended for a commission she received from the Seattle Public Library system, was the casting of simple elements: triangles, disks, hemispheres, cubes, rectangles, circles, spheres, and cones for a large installation. She plans to mount these pieces, each a single intense translucent color, in grids on white rubber, “like a code, encoded language. I’m fascinated with language and I want to take them as little symbols.”

In Walter Ong’s classic discussion of written language, Orality and Literacy , Ong writes, “The grapholect (any written language) bears the marks of the millions of minds which have used it to share their consciousness with one another.” Language in the abstract is a perfect subject for a public work in a library; however, Batty is personally concerned with the number of languages we are losing. Each loss represents the death of a unique collaborative human effort.

The library project, as well as the painting blocks, reveal a lively sensitivity to scale, utilizing small elements which could be seen as microcosms within larger fields. These characteristics, as well as her consistent reference to the grid, harmonize with the linguistic bias in Batty’s work at CGCA. No doubt, this theme will continue to resonate through her work in coming years.