Laura Battle, Light Year (2010), oil and mixed-media on canvas, 60″ x 96″
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Residents of Morris Heights—or, at least, those who travel regularly on the 4 train—are confronted with a choice in destinations upon entering the Burnside Avenue station: Manhattan or the galaxy’s farthest reaches?
How To Get To The Moon, a series of decorative windows by Laura Battle and commissioned by the MTA, combines patterning, diagrammatic structures and the “timeless geometries found in the cosmos” in the hope of bringing to straphangers a sense, however fleeting, of measure and calm.
That’s a tall order and a noble one, too, but public art invariably sacrifices intimacy for the sake of immediacy. The project must have been vexing for Battle, because so much of her vision is dependent on intimacy—on the nuances of touch, the meticulous layering of motifs, gentle elisions of color and a symbolic vocabulary that borders on the hermetic.
Battle’s recent works on paper and canvas at Lohin Geduld Gallery—schematic networks realized through the patient accumulation of ruled marks and deftly orchestrated pictographs—are almost stridently anti-public in their delicacy. They bring to mind any number of sources without pledging strict allegiance to one or the other. Pictorial characteristics reminiscent of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man as much as Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine as much as Tibetan mandalas, cuneiform, Sol Lewitt, an EKG monitor and, for all I know, a AAA roadmap can be found in Battle’s encompassing pictures without being stymied by any of them.
Which is to say that Battle, like any artist worth her salt, transforms influences by embedding them within the peculiarities of individual vision. Try pulling the pictures apart; you can’t. Each picture is its own talismanic machine, wrapped snuggly within the logic of its highly intuitive and precisely tuned crafting. And, boy, do they redefine contemporaneity. Jackson Pollock meets Piranesi at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza—at the dawning of the 21st century, no less. And from there, Battle’s work takes off.
© 2010 Mario Naves
Originally published in the December 15, 2010 edition of City Arts.