Tanya Batura at Mindy Solomon Gallery
Artillery Magzine, May/June 2010
by Eve Wood
Tanya Batura's most recent exhibition at the Mindy Solomon Gallery in St. Petersburg, Florida, constitutes an amalgam of simultaneously complex and challenging sculptural works that both subvert and transcend their own materiality. As any artist working in ceramics knows, perfecting the surface is the first step toward seducing the viewer, and Batura understands this better than most, though, unlike many artists working in this medium, she does not sacrifice content at the altar of materiality, but creates forms wherein the surfaces embody a deeper more abiding conceptualism.
Batura's subject matter is never simple or easy, and despite the fact these sculptures refract light across their smooth glassy surfaces, the faces are set in moods of feverish ecstasy and dubious contemplation that could easily be mistaken for the steadfast open-eyed gaze of the dead as indeed many of these pieces appear to reference the ancient tradition of memorialization. Throughout global histories, masks of deceased persons were part of an ancient cultural tradition. For example, the most important process of the funeral ceremony in ancient Egypt was the mummification of the body, which, after prayers and consecration, was put into a sarcophagus enameled and decorated with gold and gems. A special element of the rite involved the creation of a sculpted mask placed over the face of the deceased at the time of death. This mask was believed to strengthen the spirit of the mummy and guard the soul from evil spirits on its way to the afterworld. Batura's heads are hardly shamanistic, however, the effigy of the face serves even here as it did in ancient Egypt as a portal toward transcendence and a reminder of the transience of human life.
Works like "Dutchlavender" operate on two levels simultaneously, as both a portrait representing literal form while also denying its own figuration. The face betrays no emotional resonance, no particular agenda or countenance, and really the only human trace is a slight blush across the lips and cheeks. The eyes are open, but as with the rest of the figure, they are blank and colorless. The blush is suggestive of a bruise, but could also reference more libidinal pursuits, i.e. Lord Byron's searing comment "What is hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of." As with Byron, Batura sees straight through the light and into the darkness. After all, the light is only temporary, reserved for the living, but darkness is eternal.
Other works like the strangely disconcerting blue-eyed figure titled simply "Untitled" is reminiscent of the open-mouthed gaze indicative of transcendence by many of the Old Masters including Michelangelo and Bernini. In these works as with this piece, which certainly follows an unprecedented historic lineage, the gaze is directed inward, though the figure stares obviously outside himself.
Batura's work clearly derives from her own variegated imagination, often dark, sometimes comic, and always slightly off center. Her work is forged not so much in the heat of sudden inspiration as much as in the clutches of a veiled and slightly macabre sense of longing.