Interview with Henry Bateman

I first met Henry Bateman through Ross Capili last year during an exhibit at One Workshop Gallery. He was trained as a painter but decided to abandon painting to pursue photo-based art. I was at the opening of his 'Pixel Perfect' exhibit and have asked if he’s willing to talk about his work and am glad he agreed.

Dennis Rito: How long have you been a painter before you decided to shift completely to photo-based art?

Henry Bateman: I have been painting and drawing for most of my life, but it was in the early 80’s that I did a piece and realised that I had some skill at this painting lark. It was around the same time that my parents realised I had some talent and stopped pushing me to get “a real job”. Although I had from the 70’s been working in theatre as a lighting and set designer and scenic artist this realization prompted me to go to Art School. I applied and was accepted by the Claremont School of Art in 1983 and held my first solo exhibition in the latter half of 1984.

DR: Please provide a brief background on your work, and how long have you been working with photo-based art?

HB: I have been working with photo-based art for about 9 years now. I first started out making the “neon series” works which over a couple of years morphed into the “ripple series’. When I first arrived in the Philippines the change of scene was such that I went through what I call my “tourist phase”, taking photos of all the wonders that beheld me. But after about 12 months, as my knowledge of Pinoy culture grew, I started making the pixilated photographs with their abstract overtones.

'Broken Spaces' © Henry Bateman

DR: Can you relate to us what was the impetus that made you decide to focus on this kind of work?

HB: It was whilst I was working on a commissioned carved painting in 2000 that I came across digital photography and the post production capabilities of the computer. I had an analogue SLR which I used as an instant drawing device.

But the computers capabilities fascinated me and I soon had a 2M point and shoot and I started playing with the various software programs( Irfanview, Paint Shop Pro, GIMP and Photoshop). After a couple of years I upgraded to a 5M point and shoot and upon arriving in the Philippines I upgraded to a DSLR.

The computer software is at the heart of what I do, it enables me to stamp my ideas and view of the world upon the photographs I take. For me the camera is the means of obtaining visuals to work upon in the computer. It’s like the paint and the brushes each have their capabilities and their limitations, whilst the software is the actual painting process. I guess I am still a painter at heart which is why people say that my works look more like paintings than photos.

'New York Taxi' © Henry Bateman

DR: It is interesting to note how you decompose the basic image structure and concentrate instead on the basic pixels to provide form in the work you do. Would you mind sharing with us who have influenced your work and style?

HB: The Dutch artist Piet Mondrian is a major influence on my work. The strength of the underlying structure in his work, the grid, holds together some interesting and at times complex ideas. His “New York Boogie Woogie” almost dances before your eyes in a random fashion that changes upon subsequent viewings and is only contained by its underlying grid. Just like the Jazz impros it is talking about, the free form is based upon an underling structure the holds it all together. Jackson Pollock is another artist whose work relies upon an underlying structure, implied rather than expressly stated, that holds his grandiose expressions of joie de vie together.

And then there is the 20th Century master, Pablo Picasso. His ability to look at things in a new way and his skill at expressing his vision holds me in awe. In his “Portrait of Sylvette (1954)” he manages to capture the many facets of her personality from the innocence of childhood through the bravado of adolescence to the worldly wise woman that lurks underneath.

'Remembering Batangas' © Henry Bateman

DR: I noticed that some of your art pieces were composed of works that were photographed on different occasions. When do you call when a piece is done?

HB: The piece determines when it is finished. Photos can sit on my hard drive for months, years even, waiting for the companions that will complete it or I may get them on the same day. With “Remembering Batangas” the center image was made on my first trip to a friend’s home in the province. The top and bottom images were made after a subsequent visit almost a year later. When I had made the later images they just fitted nicely with the earlier image. Whereas the images from “Gateway I” came from the same photo shoot. There is no hard and fast rule, it happens when it happens.

'Tree' © Henry Bateman

DR: Can you share with us your creative process?

HB: With the camera it is pretty intuitive, almost like street photography, although what I shoot will depend upon what I am thinking about at the time. Like with the Gateway Suite, I went out to investigate the Filipino mall phenomenon. I had no fixed ideas of what I was going to shoot; I just shot what caught my eye whilst having that idea in the back of my mind.

When I got the images on the computer then my critical facilities came into play as I worked on them. Deconstructing them from the found object into the idea the object represented and then combining the ideas into an interesting (well to me) comment about phenomena.

DR: Can you share with us who is Henry Bateman when not making art?

HB: I enjoy playing chess, but usually lose 2 games out of 3. I like watching movies, dramas & comedies mostly, action flicks leave me cold. I enjoy reading and am currently re-reading books from my youth; it is interesting to see how much my ideas have changed. I am also teaching myself Dreamweaver and Flash.

For updates on Henry Bateman's works, please visit his blog.


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