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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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BACK TO WORK (or Beauty is where you see it)

 

Studio 45 quickly became a hive of activity. I set up my batik table in the front section of the loft and two giant stereo speakers on either side. There were already two great stainless sinks in the back of the loft, a legacy from the studio's dark room and I set up drying lines on the roof outside our back door. We had scrounged together a motley collection of furniture from the streets around us for I have discovered the richest garbage in the world here in the richest country in the world. We had found beds, filing cabinets, desks, and even a great foldout sofa on nocturnal sorties into the city. This was a culture in which obsolescence wasn't only built in but was also instantaneous. In Ibiza we would have died for some of these fabulous finds. I remembered carrying a funky old table that we had found in a ruined house at least three miles with Marie Luz once. It was a scorching day in mid-summer and we both suffered from acute sunburn the next day. So it was hard for me to understand why all this perfectly good and usable furniture was being thrown away. It was easy to take on the task of recycling all these discarded treasures while at the same time resisting being sucked into the rampant consumerism that was so central to this city. I found myself fascinated by the new landscape around me, by the incredible shops selling everything under the sun, the amazing skyscrapers, the endless avenues of glass and concrete and brick and the complex and distorted multi-reflections that buildings made in close proximity with one another. I wanted to try and paint it all. Sometimes it seemed to me that people were only incidental to this new world or at best slaves to the machine. The city could easily be imagined to have an identity of its own. It felt like we had all willingly been sold into a kind of servitude here and that my task could be to try and record it all. I found myself coming back to my beloved Ukiyo-e Japanese art and to those "Pictures of the Floating World". I wanted to see how batik painting could adapt itself to a new landscape. I had always basically used my batik to record my life and what was around me with the hope that people would be able to see what I could see. Perhaps they could see it already or perhaps I lacked the skill to realize it at all. But that didn't seem to be the point though and I readily accepted my task and my servitude. This was a new kind of beauty and I have always worshipped Beauty in all its forms.

Actually the first new work I did in Manhattan came out of a trip I made with Bruce to his family farm in Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half's drive from the city. We went out there one weekend not long after the demise of the Late Afternoon Construction Co. and spent an idyllic time walking in the woods, exploring the nearby "Hidden Lake" and just shaking off the tensions of the city. It felt good to breathe a bit of clean air. The house itself was old, made of wood and was a constant tribute to the American Way, with images of the bald-headed flying eagle on everything, from the wallpaper to the frying pan to the embossed seat on the toilet. It reminded me of the dusty Den back in Larchmont where time was trying hard to stand still. Ultimately it was fighting a losing battle, I knew, but today it felt comfortable and friendly. I spent the weekend drawing and taking photos and when I got back to the Studio started a new series of batiks. There was a view of the house with its little pond and pictures of the Lake and the beautiful old Dutch barn near the house. I think that my work was moving onto a new level of realism and a new style at this point.

It was hard not to batik the views from the loft window too and the empty facade of the seedy Scott Hotel was my first New York batik. Michael and Gene were hard at work too. Gene started to make large cut-out paper collages and Michael was working on the first of many montages made from found New York objects, street junk, smashed mirrors and crushed beercans which he studded with rhinestones and hung as mobiles. Life was pretty frenetic at #131 with activity going on all day and night as we were all operating on different time schedules. Michael would be on his way to bed in the dark bedroom just as I staggered up to my batik table early in the morning. We all learned to live with noise and just tuned it out after awhile.

 

It felt like my life was getting back on track again. I showed my portfolio to a craft gallery in Soho, Maker's Gallery and was quickly offered a joint show in the Fall. So I worked hard and got a new show together. I hung the work on metal bars which gave it a vaguely contemporary look, for presenting my work properly has always been a problem for me. Probably all I felt that I was lacking at that point was a meaningful and loving relationship. In spite of the communal life at the Studio, it was easy to feel lonely in the city. My image of myself then was very much of someone who was able to love and be loved and moreover, of someone who generally was married. Put simply, I wanted a girlfriend.

 

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