Now Featuring Katie Batten

Katie Batten jams everything into her paintings – art history, pop culture, flights of imagination, the mundane objects in her studio – with enthusiasm and bravado.  We talked about what it means to be a painter, what it means to be a girl and making painting fun.

Exclusive Print 1

Exclusive Print 1, Low Self-Esteem City


Exclusive Print 2

Exclusive Print 2, You Also Have A Pizza


Exclusive Print 3

Exclusive Print 3, Mother-Daughter-Laser-Razor


Exclusive Print 4

Exclusive Print 4, Everything Sunny All the Time Always


Exclusive Print 5

Exclusive Print 5, Appropriately Sized Pots

 MH: What’s your approach to the still life and the memento mori?  I see threads of these long traditions throughout your work, painted and also as installations.

KB: For the last few years, I have been pretty consistently working with the still life. Primarily, I love their relationship with the history of painting and the narrative of the artist in the studio. The still life motif has been carried by artists for hundreds of years, and, in a lot of ways, remains pretty intact: A fabric draped surface populated with books, vessels, plants/flowers and food. I use the still life as a vehicle to paint and give myself permission to play within that context. As a painter, I am just as interested in abstraction as I am in representational painting, I fight for them to exist simultaneously.

Historically, the skull has always been portrayed as an object of contemplation and mortality… of self-reflection and drama. I utilize the memento mori as another arena for play and duality. I like the battle between the serious tones and something nonsensical or girlish. I set a stage where a skull and a pink squiggle act as costars.


MH: Can you talk about some of the motifs that emerge in your more representational work, the macrame, the skull, etc.?

KB: Some of the repeated motifs come from the historical influences, like the skull and the willow-patterned vessels. There are others, like tin coffee mugs and my computer, that are actually present in my studio. I also repeat certain fabrics, like this pink and blue teardrop pattern, that are only imagined. I think these are kind of funny, like a “red herring” from the reality of my studio.

Thematically, I curate the still lives as a reflection of my own biography as a painter and a Lisa Frank-generation girl (woman?). I pull images and patterns from art history, glimpses of pop culture and references to contemporary painting. There are political references like a Pussy Riot balaclava that are counteracted with almost absurd depictions of pizza and smiley faces.


MH: What’s your relationship to pattern and chaos in your paintings?  It feels like you’re attuned to both, and play with a balance.

KB: I love using pattern, mostly for fabrics. Many of my influences use a significant amount of pattern in their work; Matisse, Laura Owens, and Jonas Wood.

I have a pretty invested relationship with chaos at this point. Much of my process involves constructing a space and then populating it. At times I struggle with over- or under-populating the painting, but I try to strike a happy balance of density and breathing room. Sometimes the space is piled and layered like coral while at other times it is flowing and sporadic, a ticker tape parade.

MH: How do you find your painting practice (do you call it that, do you call it something different?) evolving and growing?

KB: Because of my interest in still life, I am always looking to expand my practice into installation and ceramics. I’m usually tinkering with something outside of my two dimensional work. Recently, I have been digitally printing on fabrics and constructing large coil pots out of poly cord rope. I have been utilizing these pots for my house plants…which I am not very good at keeping alive.


MH: What drew you to painting in the first place?  I ask because you mentioned being part of the Lisa Frank generation (an amazing touchstone!) and I can imagine so many ways that kind of maximalist influence might have led you down other paths… what is it about painting, for you?

KB: Aesthetically, the Lisa-Frankness has always been appealing to me: the lushness and overabundance feels like a sticky sweet sparkle jungle. Anything like that really still gets me. While I was in school, I explored this in almost every other way before painting, mostly involving gemstones and glitter. I struggled with painting for a long time, sometimes I still do. Not really painting as a verb or an action, but more as a justification of the practice. It feels arrogant and narcissistic to make images in the 21st century and feel like you’re still bringing something worthwhile to the table.

I had some really incredible faculty at school, many of them happened to be painters. They helped me realize that painting was an exciting and playful arena for my aesthetic and conceptual interests. I like that it has rules and an elaborate (sometimes overwhelming) history. The seriousness provides an opportunity to respect it and indulge it, but also opens itself to ridicule and mockery. I love the materiality of paint as well. It is capable of minute details and elaborate rendering while also able to be paint for painting’s sake, gooey, sultry and sticky.


MH: Can you talk about how you wrestle with the “girlish” tones in your work? I think girlish is a great way to go– for women it’s a place of power even though some people find it uncomfortable, and countering the notion that it’s not serious seems like an important task, and maybe a fun one.

KB: As a woman-lady-girl-feminist, I think it’s an exciting time to be a painter. Personally I am not interested in making a painting for social/political activism, though with respect to anyone who does.

I do feel like it’s important to represent myself as an unapologetic lady painter. When I construct an image, I always think about my own biography, as a girl who was raised in the suburbs in the ‘90s. I think the Lisa-Frank/Barbie image culture can be just as relevant as the history of painting as anything else. It has to be possible to paint like a multi-dimensional female protagonist, daring, informed, sultry, girlish, playful, angry, curious… or whatever. I feel like painting like a girl is something worth celebrating.


MH: Who are/what are some of your other influences?

KB: I love super clean-cut painters. Laura Owens and Jonas Wood are both everything perfect. With other painters I am most interested in color quality, the light situation within the piece and paint application more than imagery. Laura Owen’s and Jonas Wood’s paintings read so quickly but are both so full of magical painting moments. I love Matisse too, his use of perspective and pattern, he seems a little freaky too in a good way.

I watch TV while painting, so there’s that too. Part of it is a way of convincing myself that what I am doing is fun, but I am also very interested in shows about women and how women are portrayed. Some of my Netflix binging is very indulgent, like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, but I also feel like there are plenty of progressive shows as well. Creators like Shonda Rhymes (Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) and Jenji Kohan (Orange Is the New Black) produce series in which every episode could pass the Bechdel Test. Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Tina Fey (30 Rock) are doing great things for women in comedy. I title all of my work after TV episodes, which may or may not be a little embarrassing.


MH: What does 2015 hold for you?

KB: Well starting off the New Year with Little Paper Planes is a great way to start! I’ve been working on a couple of other projects as well. I have a 2-person show in at Gallery 1301 in Baltimore in the early spring with another painter Emilia Olsen. The two of us have also organized an all girls group show in Milwaukee at Present Works which will open in April.



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