Abstraction Inspired by Nature

Roisin Bateman's "Kingfisher," pastel on paper, 40x64"
Roisin Bateman’s “Kingfisher,” pastel on paper, 40×64″

By Annette Hinkle

You might say that Roisin Bateman’s artwork is inspired by nature. But hers is not a literal interpretation, instead, her art speaks to forces hinting of change to come—in a moment, an hour or even a lifetime. Though her art is dominated by intense color, it’s color that Ms. Bateman has worked in such a way as to ensure there are always hints of the white paper or canvas beneath, as if the clouds and mist were just gathering or parting.

A fine selection of Ms. Bateman’s recent work is on view in “Paintings, Pastels and Prints,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at Peter Marcelle Project in Southampton. The show ends with a closing party this Sunday afternoon, and the work on view represents a range of Bateman’s imagery – from pastel pieces consisting of bars of color reminiscent of the horizontal sand, beneath sea, beneath sky orientation inherent in an East End sunset, to large oil paintings with cloudlike swaths of color that speak of a changeable environment.

Though her work is abstract by design, Ms. Bateman, who lives in Sag Harbor, admits that much of her inspiration comes from the landscape she encounters regularly as a resident of the East End, and as well as her memories of growing up on the west coast of Ireland.

“I think in Ireland, especially, it is a landscape that is so ancient,” explains Ms. Bateman. “The beaches are made of tiny rocks that are a billion years old, then everything is changing by the second.”

“It’s that juxtaposition, not just in landscape,” she adds. “I love old European cities like Rome. It’s that old, ancient architecture, then you have these beautiful young Romans zipping around on Vespas.”

Ms. Bateman grew up by the sea in Connemara, a wild, windswept stretch of land just west of the city of Galway. It is here where she feels her artistic vision took root, specifically in the dramatic nature of Ireland’s rugged coast, with its constantly changing weather bringing dark rolling clouds, misty rain, fog, bursts of sunshine, strong winds and even rainbows, all in the course of just a few minutes.

The same can be said of this part of the world as well at certain times of year, particularly this time of year, though the East End’s flat landscape and its horizontal orientation couldn’t be more different than Ireland.

Not that Ms. Bateman is all that literal in her work.

“When I start painting, I really don’t have an agenda, whatever comes out comes out,” she admits. “When I’m out and about now, on Havens Beach or at Barcelona Neck, I’m really taking it in consciously. Looking back in retrospect, I think it feels like [my work] could be of that place or those colors.”

“I love the changeable skies,” she adds. “I was walking at Barcelona Neck not long ago and got caught in a freak rainstorm with a big dark cloud. I thought if I keep walking I’ll get out from under it. The sky was doing all kinds of crazy things. Then there was a rainbow.”

“There’s something really cool about it,” she adds. “It looks like nothing’s changing, but five minutes later, it’s a whole other scene.”

Like the weather, Ms. Bateman has been known to change as well. An oil painter for many years, Ms. Bateman discovered a love for pastels, a medium which she has firmly embraced for the past several years.

“Oil is so heavy, you have all these solvents,” she says. “Pastel is like dust. It’s dry, malleable – it couldn’t be better. I like to be able to change things a lot with different relationships with color, and pastels gave me the opportunity to do that.”

With pastels, she notes, areas can be reworked, layered, rubbed out and even re-worked.

“It’s like highly pigmented chalk. I love that you can write over it,” says Ms. Bateman who does just that in many of her pieces. But rather than words, Ms. Bateman is using the pastels to express a different kind of language through the marks she makes across the expansive color fields of her work. To some, those marks might resemble tracing lines left as an echo of a flight path — the remnants of a bird or insect that has passed by, for example, or perhaps the path of a fallen leaf from a tree. Because the work is abstract, the interpretation is entirely subjective.

“A lot of the challenge for me is to integrate it, so the lines are moving through the color fields” she says. “They are two counter statements – the challenge is connecting those two things.”

“Sometimes I just close my eyes so it’s not premeditated,” adds Ms. Bateman. “It is so changeable. To get that really fresh mark, you have to kind of remove yourself and just do it.”

Over the course of the past year, Ms. Bateman has moved back into oils, but interestingly enough, she has discovered a new way of working with them that is much more in keeping with her pastel style.

“I apply the oils in thin layers with rags, rub them in and then take them out,” explains Ms. Bateman. “You can see the canvas through it, which is unusual for oil.”

“I’ve developed a very new palette, in the last year especially,” she adds. “I think the colors are more muted, more organic and more related to the colors I’m seeing everywhere this time of year – like on that drive to Montauk – they are such beautiful colors.”

“I think I’ve found a more unique style or visual language.”

Ms. Bateman’s new technique also results in paintings that are much lighter and ethereal than traditional oils and she notes how the style very much reflects where she is as an artist at this point in her life.

“When I went to museums in the city, I used to look at deKooning, Pollock and Mitchell, the energetic painters,” she says. “Now when I go to MoMA or the Met, I need a dose of Agnes Martin or Giorgio Morandi, there’s something nice about breathing space.”

And of course, when your work is inspired by nature, isn’t breathing space what it’s all about?

The Closing Party for “Roisin Bateman: Paintings, Pastels and Prints” is Sunday, November 16, 2014 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Peter Marcelle Project, 41 N. Main Street, Southampton. Call (631) 613-6170 or visit petermarcelleproject.com for more information.

In addition, Ms. Bateman is now teaching a six-session art workshop for adults at the John Jermain Memorial Library, 34 W. Water Street, Sag Harbor. The workshop is geared toward beginners, though all levels are welcome, and meets Tuesdays from 10:30 to noon. The fee is $30. Call (631) 725-0049 to reserve.