The Painting Matters – Not the Reality

If you want to convey fact, this can only ever be done through a form of distortion. You must distort to transform what is called appearance into image. (Francis Bacon) Recently I was at an art exhibit and one of the guests commented on the featured painting of a streetscape: “That corner doesn’t really look like that. The building is too close to the street.” He was absolutely correct – but was he absolutely ‘right’ in saying that? A painting is not a photograph even though in some paintings of realism a feather may appear to float out from the canvas. The composition of a painting is the synthesis of the artist’s experience. He/she has necessarily edited extraneous detail and reconfigured placement in order to make a statement that is readily understood by the viewer. Even the idea of scale from a real life building to the confines of a canvas has distorted ‘reality’. What we are looking at is a symbol. Just as the word ‘book’ is the symbol of the object that we pick up and read. In the painting now in the Nano Gallery, “The Gooderham Building”, artist Tony Batten has distorted ‘reality’ of the stark city scape of Toronto to create an image of humanity bustling about within the parenthesis of warm terra cotta brick of the Victorian foundations of our modern city. His image – created – is of the warmth, familiarity and humble activities of everyday life near the St. Lawrence Market. At a time when all of life is towering over us – skyscrapers, information, stresses and demands, this painting tells us we are still very much human in our simple pursuits.