Eastern promisesArtist finds creative salvation in Vedic deities
Published November 1, 2012 by Zoltan Varadi in Visual Arts
As he tells it, Brian Batista has been an artist for over 30 years; he just hasn’t had much work to show for it. He says he knew he wanted to paint since he was five, but due to the interceding diversions of school and work, he’s just now holding his second solo show.
While Batista graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2001 and was lucky enough to get a job straight out of the gate as Emmedia’s production co-ordinator — a role he held for eight years — the resulting 16-hour days didn’t leave much time to hit the canvas.
So, he walked away from it all.
“When you work in artist-run centres, you’re working for the artist — and I wanted to be the artist again,” he says. “I was like, okay, I’ve had enough, because I needed some growth.... I tried to redefine myself.... Everyone knew me as the video guy. And there was a huge falling out period — I felt lost for about six months. I wasn’t the video guy. I didn’t have those jobs anymore. In your 30s that’s a lot scarier.”
Thankfully, Batista had no less than a pantheon of deities to guide the way; while he maintains he’s “close to being an atheist,” he was attracted to the iconography of Tibetan Buddhism on an aesthetic if not spiritual level. Saying he wasn’t quite sure of his own style, he researched figures in museums from New York to Los Angeles, Toronto to Calgary.
“What really interests me is that it’s all about the human condition,” he says. “Also, I’m super-literal, and [in Tibetan art] every object has a meaning and tells a story. I don’t really understand abstract art, and classical, figurative art is a little too obvious. I like symbols, motifs and iconography, but I still want to do figurative work.”
So Batista ventured forth with his first major series of works, fairly faithful (if a little brighter colour-scheme wise) representations of these deities, even going so far as to teach himself the sacred geometry that the Tibetans used in determining scale, proportions and positioning of their subjects.
“The Tibetan stuff is relationships to everything else — if one leg is up the other has to be down, if one leg is pointed this way, the other has to be pointed that way,” explains Batista. “It creates a balance, somehow, using those shapes and that math.”
For his current exhibition at Stride — Divine Inspiration — Batista reached even further back in time, looking to the Vedic deities of Hinduism which later informed the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. However, this time around Batista allowed himself more representational leeway — while elephant-headed Ganesh comes across pretty much how you’d expect, the goddess Lakshmi appears with dreadlocks and holds a banjo, and the traditionally male Shiva is rendered in female form (fun fact — his model was Carisa Hendrix, local Guinness record-holding fire eater and last week’s subject of this publication’s Your Face Here).
Also, while the colourful images certainly pop out of the frames on their own accord, the effect is further emphasized with a pair of Chromatech 3D glasses, which are available at the gallery.
Batista downplays this visual twist, though — he says the paintings stand on their own without the effect — he just wanted to try it out after being introduced to the technique at a rave and then realizing he had already painted colours — much like a printmaker — in the order needed to produce a 3D image.
Indeed, it seems to be part and parcel of a journey of both serious (he’s also studied classical Florentine figurative painting) and playful exploration as he discovers what it is to be a working artist.
Batista admits he’s still finding his way, which is why having a place to show his work is of such importance.
“[Calgary artist Chris Cran] came up to my paintings and pointed out some things that just opened my eyes,” says Batista of the kind of dialogue facilitated by the opening of Divine Inspiration. “And that’s what I wanted, because I’m trying to get somewhere and I don’t know where that is.”