BATIK IS A **** LETTER WORD
I’ve been baffled for years about Batik’s bad profile in the West. In Asia, Batik is a well-known and much respected ancient art form, albeit mainly decorative, but nevertheless an integral part of the structure of the artistic community. Ancient and modern batiks are sought after and collected avidly by discriminating art buyers. The art form finds its outlets mainly in the form of exquisitely detailed fabrics which are used to make top-end clothing and unique interior decoration items. The Batik industry, which extends from Japan to Indonesia, from Thailand to India and even Africa, is a huge business and continues to grow. It was exposed to Europe via the Dutch colonial presence and picked up years ago in Holland and especially, Germany.
But that seems to be as far as its influence has extended. The Batik Guild is a going concern in the UK with many active members worldwide. But in the USA, Batik has, if not a bad image, at least the image of being closely allied to Tie Dye and the province of Grateful Dead skull and roses Tee-shirts. At best, it is often seen as the work of amateurish old ladies
(For some reason it is largely a woman’s art form) dripping soy wax onto cheesecloth. This situation couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a large number of Batik artists working throughout the West, in Europe, Canada and the USA. Batik has gone far beyond the decorative craft that it started as and many artists are creating beautiful, challenging and sophisticated paintings using different techniques within the medium. Batik is essentially a way to create images on cloth using coldwater dyes and wax as a resist to control and separate the colours. Within that medium, there are a million subtle ways to achieve different effects and each serious artist maintains his or her own secrets no doubt. But there is something that each Batik artist has in common in the West- the continual struggle to deal with Batik’s poor image and name.
Is it because fabric is fragile and doesn’t generally hold up intact over centuries? Surely not; performance art or non-permanent art creations, like Andy Goldsworthy’s outdoor installations in Nature, are accepted and much-loved elements in the art world. Is it the association that the art form has with so much uninspiring and carelessly produced work? It is true that work is put out under the Batik banner that should never be seen in public. To achieve any worthwhile results in this difficult and slow medium can take years of dedicated trail and error. Batik is not for those who lack patience or who go for quick results. It seems to me that there are, unfortunately, too many artists working under the Batik banner who would not get away with what they produce were they painting in oils or watercolors. Excessive cracking, a characteristic of Batik, often masks poorly executed pictures. Perhaps these artists should work a little harder and keep their results under wraps until they come up with something more impressive- and perhaps they do give Batik a bad name.
I’ve often thought that a name change for what I do is what is needed. Rozome, batik by any other name, has given the medium a whole new image in Japan and in parts of the West. The work that these Japanese artists produce is astoundingly beautiful but it actually only a sophisticated form of Batik. How about Wax Resist painting? It sounds dull! Perhaps we should rename the whole art form and give it a new, zippy, Twenty first century identity. I’m open to suggestions!
Jonathan S. Evans