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

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WAXWORKS, BARCELONA

 

 

We were making new work contacts all over the place at this time and turning out a wide range of different batik fabrics for clothes, lamps, bedspreads and screens. We sold a bunch of designs to textile companies to be printed by the yard too and in 1974, we actually had the best selling fabric design of the year. I had drawn the dark silhouette of the trees by the house against a late evening sky. We had been experimenting with gradation dyeing, dipping the cloth into a bucket of dye and then slowly drawing it out so that the cloth became progressively darker as time past. We could do it with several different coloured dyes too, putting the bottom of the cloth into yellow dye, the middle of the cloth into red dye and the top into dark blue dye for example. Where the dyes overlapped, green and purple gradations resulted. So my night sky was a subtly graded lilac to violet colour. It was immediately bought by a contemporary textile company for a few thousand pesetas. That summer, my design, in several different shades of colour, was to be seen everywhere, on curtains, tablecloths, bedspreads and pillows. It was even voted "Design of the Year" by Art and Efficiency (or something of that nature) Magazine. That was the first time that I didn't quite make a million but it certainly wasn't to be the last.

 

Another such occasion was at the annual Alta Moda Exhibition in Barcelona where we met a suave Frenchman called Roger Leveder. He was young, handsome and very dashing. He had a stand there to show and get orders on his clothes and I showed him some photos of wrap-around skirts that we had made. He loved the work and asked if we could come up with twenty-five skirts that he could show on his stand. Of course I said we could and that I'd drop them off the next day. It was too good a chance to miss and my energy level knew no bounds. Besides Michael and Gene were around to help. Luckily we had about twelve skirts half-finished back at the studio and started a non-stop twenty four work marathon to come up with all twenty five by the next morning. Marie Luz sewed like a demon, the rest of us drew frantically and waxed right through the night using fans to dry the dyes and a lot of cafe con leches to stay awake. At nine, the next morning, I threw twenty-five damp skirts into the back of the trusty Citroen and raced down the hill to see our faithful dry cleaner Antonio. He had been alerted, had cleared the dry-cleaning decks for us and cleaned the batiks while I waited, sitting in the car with the engine gunned up and running. Or am I making this part up completely? Anyway we were back at the Exhibition by eleven and Roger was taking orders on our skirts by midday. That part turned out to be a great success and gave us steady work for a few months. But Roger wanted to do more, to go further, to make more money. He planned to present us in Paris, to put together a truly stunning show of one of a kind unique batik outfits, spectacular evening wear, sophisticated summer dresses, even swimwear and men's shirts, all to be sold with matching accessories. The sky was the limit, Chanel, St Lauren, Leveder, Diego and Evans ! I remember that we designed and executed a series of bikinis which consisted of batiked hands covering the breasts and one nestled discretely between the legs. We also made a fabulous man's conventional suit batiked like Superman's costume in red, blue and yellow which was one of the weirdest articles of clothing that I ever saw. But Roger was having trouble coming up with any money to pay for all the exotic silks and chiffons that he had us buying to batik for Paris. One day he just simply vanished, leaving his office, clothes business and a frantic wife. He apparently owed money all over town and still owes me money. I ran into him a few years later under a different name working as a d.j. at Amnesia Club in Ibiza.

 

Michel was another Frenchman and another story. He was pretty cool, with a well-established business and he saw the possibilities of our batik and dyeing skills in his business at once. We became a small factory one summer with drying lines strung up all over the house and garden for months on end. Our new master, Michel, would call in apparently endless orders for khaki, pale blue and pink (ugh!) dyed skirts and tops. It was grueling, backbreaking and boring work but we did learn a lot about gradation dyeing and enjoyed the regular employment for awhile. Next Michel put us onto T-shirts, specifically dyeing them 100 different shades which we ultimately learnt how to do from only five different buckets of dye. We would leave some T shirts in longer for stronger colours and then drop them into several dye baths and take them out quickly for subtle mauves, beiges and taupes. The full range was a spectacular sight strung out on our line to dry but of course we had trouble reproducing the colours exactly later. Our pinks tended to range from shocking to salmon and our khaki colours were never the same twice. But best of all, we got to make batik clothes for Michel. He would give us sewn white clothes and left us free to batik whatever we wanted on them. Our association with him only ended when we moved to live in Ibiza permanently but I think that we realized that mass-production on that scale was not the way to go.

 

Doing mindless work did leave us free to indulge in various fantasy projects. We had started to go to the Flea market every Sunday and would always find great stashes of old cut glass chandelier crystal. I strung together dozens of pieces to make an incredible ten feet by six feet curtain of flashing glass. We hung it in our living room window when nobody wanted to buy it. When the sun shone through it, the room seemed to disappear under water as rainbows spun, shivered and shattered across the walls.

 

We got orders for large batik screens too and did what I've always considered some of our best work in realizing them. I made the first screen myself but I was no carpenter and found someone to make the next ones. The four panel "Almond Blossoms" was dyed on raw silk, which took the dyes fabulously. I remember that Marie Luz and I both drew the flowers from life and then changed places. Then we each redrew the other's blossoms before starting the waxing process so that the result truly came from Estudio Cabeza. I drew a very Japanesy picture of a stream for a second large screen and we made a miniature table screen with little purple irises on a white background. Marie Luz's little table screen with its series of exquisite flower studies was one of our finest pieces. We started batiking velvet in this period too and found that although it was painfully slow to work on cloth with such a high pile, the resulting dye colours were well worth the effort.

 

This lead to our working with various interior decoration studios for we were able to dye cloth to match any colour scheme. We could create matching curtains, cushions, lamps or bedspreads often in velvet or corduroy. Once we got a commission to batik velvet to cover all the walls of a large bedroom and to make matching curtains and bedspread. We came up with a great Autumn design in yellows, reds and browns.

 

Sadly these turned out to be our last days in Valvidrera although we kept the house on for another year to give Marie Luz a base in Barcelona. A long threatened plan to build a tunnel through Tibidabo hill to improve the road was finally put into action. Trucks began to roar up and down our little road all day, raising a dust storm and turning it into a busy highway. Trees were torn down to enlarge the access road, the nightingales moved out and it was time for us to do the same. Besides the children were growing older and were more able to take care of themselves and we were both dying to get back to the island.

 

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