Saturday, November 15, 2014

Joe Batt at Salon Refu

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 13, 2014

Over the past year Salon Refu has established itself as the edgiest art gallery in Olympia, if not the edgiest south of Seattle. But being in the avant garde is not enough for gallery owner Susan Christian; she also insists that the art in her gallery be skillfully crafted — no carelessly thrown-together art for this gallery.

And that brings us to the current installation by ceramicist Joe Blatt, which is outstanding in almost all aspects but slightly thrown-together in some small parts.
For some time now I’ve been fascinated with Batt’s strangely anthropomorphized animals and child-animal hybrids. Now he offers a complete environment comprised of ceramic children and charcoal drawings. It’s a world of satellites and cellular phones — surreal and futuristic, yet very much the world we live in, a world in which everyone is connected via satellite, in which every hand holds a smart phone and heads, eyes and brains become television monitors.

Batt creates this world by placing ceramic children throughout the gallery, some on sculpture stands, a couple on ladders. Most are unpainted red clay, but there are spots of color here and there, such as the little girl with yellow pigtails and a pink jacket walking in too-large high heel shoes. There are children whose faces become view-screens, children that are cute and loveable and simultaneously horrifying.

Hanging from the ceiling are satellites and satellite dishes, while others hang on the wall, some drawn in charcoal on paper and others drawn directly on the walls. As a final strange touch, little cut-out clouds in charcoal on Foam Core board are scattered about the floor along with broken keyboards made of ceramics.

The marvel of all this is how beautifully and humorously the ceramic sculptures and charcoal drawings contrast and harmonize with one another in content as well as style work. In many ways this may be one of the most completely realized installations I’ve seen in a long time. While studying the show I kept thinking, “ET, call home,” but in this case it was everybody call ET.

This installation is funny, inventive, and a telling commentary on contemporary society (and perhaps a dire warning of a future in which people are indistinguishable from their technological devices).

But now I have to mention the hastily thrown-together aspect that I alluded to in the opening. Although the charcoal drawings on paper are exquisite, those drawn directly on the wall are crude and look unfinished, as if the texture of the wall presented a challenge the artist was not up to or as if he did not give himself enough time to finish them. And the little cloud formations on the floor are silly and uninteresting. Having said that, I now must say this is an installation like no other and you really should see it.

Joe Batt , Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through Nov. 26, Salon Refu 114 N Capitol Way, Olympia,

Joe Batt will talk bout his installations Nov. 23 at 6 p.m.

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