David Batchelor: Flatlands
Spike Island, Bristol
23 November 2013 - 26 January 2014
Review by Leela Clarke
Best known for his sculptural installations which make ordered and beautiful a range of urban and industrial materials such as neon lights, factory scrap and Perspex in a cornucopia of synthetic hues, David Batchelor invites us to embrace the joys of a visually stimulating world through colour. He has even published books on the subject - Chromophobia (2000), explores the fear of colour in the West, while Colour (2008) is an edited anthology of writings on colour from 1850 to the present. While Flatlands offers an opportunity to revel and delight in Batchelor’s use of colour, it also delves into the interconnected worlds of 2D and 3D in his work.
Batchelor’s series of ‘Atomic Drawings’ (1998’2013), pinned to the wall along the same baseline, form a horizon of different sized papers, echoing the undulation of an urban skyline. Made using cheap and readily available materials such as marker pens, spray paint and gaffer tape, each energetic drawing depicts a potential sculpture. In a lurid spectrum of fluorescent colours, these unstable geometric and abstract forms vie for attention, like advertising hoardings and neon signs in a hyper-saturated night-time metropolis: a hovering mass of multi-coloured blotches; a quivering constellation of thick black angular lines; a burst of glowing orange bisected by a grid of rectangles. Defiantly existing within the paper, they laugh in the face of a 3-dimensional world governed by strict laws of gravity, mathematics and engineering, occupying instead the realm of magic and imagination.
This subversive approach is continued in a series of drawings made directly onto the pages of issue one of revered art theory journal October - a publication which in 37 years has never included any colour illustrations. In ‘The October Colouring-In Book’ (2012’13), Batchelor remedies this by introducing his trademark highlighter pen palette, creating geometric patterns, and often obscuring large areas of the text with black ink to create vortexes of oscillating, multi-coloured shapes.
Batchelor’s ‘Blob paintings’ (2011’2013), made by pouring industrial paint straight from the tin on to sheets of primed aluminium, play with the boundaries of dimension. Each globular form of pure colour has developed a unique and taut surface of repeating smooth ridges and dancing swirls. The blobs seem to be fighting to break free from their 2D plane. Beneath each one, a flat black rectangle infers a plinth, reinforcing their robustness. Like the ‘Atomic Drawings’, they attain potency through colour and texture that makes them alive and tangible like 3D objects.
Real sculptures also make an appearance. In ‘Concretos’ (2013), shards of translucent multi-coloured glass protrude from small blocks of concrete, alluring and threatening at once. In the large-scale installation ‘Disco Mécanique’ (2008), a dense cluster of 120 almost-perfect spheres formed of colourful plastic sunglasses hover cosmically against the stark white gallery. Not only is the work experiential, but its reference to the eye - its shape and the protection of it - provides a layered visual pun. Drawings of ‘Disco Mécanique’ after it was realised, as well as preparatory sketches for other sculptures show a more traditional relationship between 2D and 3D, but it’s the works which tease with their optical trickery that are most exciting. Come prepared to submit to colour and space and open up new worlds of visual perception.