Shadows of painting
Róbert Batykó’s object painting is determined by the dialectic of presence and absence: his objective object portraits, his realistic – but still unreal – debris paintings allude to an alienated human presence, like the scattered props and remnants left behind on stage after a performance, based on which you can only vaguely reconstruct the events that have taken place there. Absence, the suggestion of a state of “post-everything”, can be correlated not only with the absence of the human subject, but also with the duality of visual representation as described by Lévnias: the illusory presence – the vague indication – of the objects depicted on the paintings, in fact, refers to their absence. The object appears to take form on the richly differentiated painterly surface of the canvas, while it nevertheless seems to “disincarnate in its own reflection”.
It is in Batykó’s strategy for constructing the image that the unique duality of lifelikeness and unreality, of realism and abstraction, can be detected the most: he paints the chosen visual fragments on a radically large scale. While he exercises photographic precision, he simultaneously removes these details from their original milieu, simultaneously decontextualizing and re-contextualizing them. In their new environment, the sometimes unrecognizable object fragments appear as if they were floating in some kind of cosmic space, which appears both microscopic and macroscopic, close and far away, divine and tiny, digital and analogue. Digital: as the works usually originate from a digital photograph. Analogue: as the delicate play of effects between painterly qualities and various image details – be they delicately dribbled, squirted, smeared, masked, made with a paint roller or realistically modelled – comprise a central element of the compositions. The layer-structures of the palimpsest-like painting surface constitute distinctive, body-like formations, which function as a counterpoint to the immaterial nature of the original, digital prefiguration. It is to this extent that Róbert Batykó’s painting is post-medial and post-digital, rethinking the peculiarities of the virtual image culture in the context of the most time-honoured – retinal – painting traditions.
In recent years, Róbert Batykó’s paintings have portrayed abandoned, forgotten, and lost objects almost exclusively; cultural requisites scattered in the streets which can become subject to unique archaeological research and painterly, anthropological “deep boring”. It may be tempting to consider the motif of litter as an existential, ecological, social – or even art historical – metaphor, since the pieces of refuse seem to take on a personality and allude to the absent subject. At the same time the pieces of junk that are scattered in an “all-over” fashion also belong to the everyday life experience of the postmodern age and represent certain mechanisms of consumer society. The gesture of archaeological deep-boring, however, can also be brought into connection with the past in terms of art history: the concept of the found object declared as art (ready-made), but even more, the image making processes evoked by Batykó, the solutions employed by new realist object painting, the media critique and radical object enlargements of pop art or photorealism, and the urban milieu of street art. The spattered surfaces and all-over structures bring to mind the visual language of abstract expressionism.
Batykó’s visual surfaces prove to be rich material both in the sensual and intellectual sense, especially in case of the artist’s latest series, which places his previous works – quite literally - in a new light. During Batykó’s stay in the Netherlands, unique light phenomena, shadows and hues were given more emphasis than ever before. In connection to the paintings and concepts created in the extraordinary “Dutch light”, the artist makes a reference to the couleur locale, the geological and cultural historical peculiarities of the Dutch landscape, the vaporizing, diffused light that reflects off the water surfaces, and the countless approaches through which they were represented throughout the history of painting. He describes in a short text how significantly the spectacle of the Albert Cuyp Market at night with the “multicultural” torrent of scattered litter influenced the development of his latest series. The street names, which invoke the golden age of Dutch painting, render present, as it were, in a rather indirect manner, the painting tradition with which Batykó’s distinctive market depictions – however intentionally or unintentionally – also reckon with. Batykó turns the commonly known market painting genre of Dutch descriptive painting inside out in a unique manner, as what he in fact paints is not the market, but what remains after – not the whirlwind of people, but what they leave behind. He enlarges the pieces of rubbish lying on the ground: the result can be regarded both as still life and as monumental landscape painting – but it is actually neither. The Dutch painting genres as distant reminiscences faintly glow through Batykó’s layered surfaces. It is as if the artist took into account the continuability of the spectacle-based Dutch painting tradition – which also makes good use of the technological innovations of mechanistic visual representation – and, thus, the present day possibilities of mimetic painting.
In my opinion, the appearance of another classic painting motif – that of the cast shadow – is also connected to this aspiration, as an almost a necessary consequence of painterly investigations related to light. The distinctive feature of Róbert Batykó’s free-floating, “decontextualized” objects was, for a long time, precisely that they didn’t cast a shadow of any kind – they kind of rose above the spatial and temporal determinedness of the “here and now”, breaking away from the space-time continuum. While there may have been one or two exceptions – like the gridded-structure and cast shadow of the shopping cart in the painting entitled Serendipity (2010) – until very recently, Batykó consciously avoided cast shadows. In his latest works, however, they seemed to have become the most central element of the painting. An example would be the long, dramatic shadows in the painting entitled Stage Fright (2013), which could perhaps also be referring to the light of camera flash. Looking at the painting Soul Diver (2013), it is difficult to decide whether the darker surface repeating the silhouette of the water-filled plastic bag represents the soaked ground or the shade cast by strange, immaterial, amoeboid water-body. In the painting The Seed (2013), the apple core casts a peculiar shadow, which is placed in an almost surreal dimension by the circular shape appearing in the upper part of the painting, surrounded by a light band – perhaps the opening of a water pipe, or the shadow of a larger spherical surface, or a peculiar projection alluding to the once untouched state and round shape of the now consumed apple. The cultural historical –even mythical – connotations of the apple motif place the composition in a larger context, while the duality of the deteriorating organic object and the seed which guarantees rebirth, the dichotomy of shadow and body – form and anti-form – suggest an even more complex system of interrelationships. The regular circular shape evokes cosmic notions, which are further strengthened by the viewer-disorienting tendency of the composition: the apple core on the floor gives the impression that the image surface is a visual representation of the horizontally stretched out asphalt, while the quasi-celestial body (perhaps a nucleus or an eyeball?), which appears on the upper part of the painting, seems to make another landscape-like reading possible, thereby rendering the relationship of “the above” and “the below” uncertain. (This is similar to Leo Steinberg’s description of Rauschenberg’s flatbed picture plane, which “stretch out” the horizontal image on the vertical surface of the panel painting.)
The oddest thing of all, however, is the shadow that appears on the lower left corner of the painting entitled Zoom In (2013), which is cast by the artist himself, while he records the object with his smart phone. The shadow that can be regarded as a signature in the most literal sense of the word – a unique substitute for initials – alludes to the presence and absence of the artist, as well as to the multiply transposed process of artistic creation. It may bring to mind the silhouette-like handprints of the cave drawings, not to even mention the Plinian story of the origin of painting, whereby it can be tracked back to the tracing of the shadow cast on the wall. This is the first instance in a long time that Batykó sneaks a direct trace/imprint of the human subject into his paintings. He paints presence as the basic motif of mimetic painting that points to absence. Through this, it is as if he was examining the nature of visual representation, while also calling to mind Plato’s allegory of the cave, which articulates the critique of mimesis, and which can lead all the way to the theory of Baudrillardian simulacrums. The subtle play of projections brings forth the dilemma of image ontology in terms of spectacle-based painting and the problematic of hyperrealism and hyper-reality in a post-digital – perhaps post-painting – state.
It is to this extent that Róbert Batykó’s painting is meta-painting, which explores the shadow of painting, and which takes into account not only the painterly paths of new abstraction and new figuration, but also the epistemological questions underlying “blow-ups”. A whole series of post-conceptual dilemmas related to the ontology of the image can be articulated in connection to Batykó’s new works. Those who concentrate only on these questions, however, miss out on the most important particularities of these works: the sensual potential of painterly image construction, which cannot be reproduced with any digital technology or intellectual train of thought; the carefully calculated event- and process-like nature of image making, which is nevertheless influenced by chance; the interplay of images and concepts, analogies and reminiscences that are suggested by the shapes and forms scattered on the ground; the spontaneity of the materials splattered on the surface and the slowly dissolving, dribbling liquids which remain perceptible even after the drying of the surfaces.
Róbert Batykó’s painting explores the distinctive dialectic of presence and absence: in his latest works, he paints shadows, the distant shadows of distant bodies, which, in spite of their material nature invoke immateriality and the long, cast shadow of retinal painting in the age of the digital image, when Emmanuel Lévinas’s conclusion – conceived in fundamentally different circumstances – can be placed in a new context.
Published: Batykó Róbert festmények/paintings 2012-2013 / Catalogue_2013