Without a doubt, the work of Marco Battaglini (Verona, Italy, 1969) echoes the anxiety inherent in Western society during the 21st century. This artist’s work confronts us with an esthetic shock, a style charged with eclecticism and a touch of humor that brings a smile to the spectator’s face while begging questions about the dogma that underlies current artistic and social scenes.
Throughout his artistic career, Battaglini has maintained a complex working-concept of reality, approaching it from its basis in perception and coming into close proximity with the multidimensionality of being; his purpose has been to expose the contradictions intrinsic to human existence while demonstrating the power of imagination through his view of the reality that surrounds us – a reality that sometimes insists on playing tricks on our perceptions. This is an artist that devotes special attention to the notions of time and space, viewing them as fictitious entities and showing us that their worth and weight in our daily lives are actually quite relative. This modus operandi of snatching reality away and giving it back to us in the form of art gives us the opportunity to see reality from another perspective. Battaglini’s insistence on laying bare the inherent relativity of our lives is a fundamental characteristic of the work featured in this publication; these compositions capture the very essence of an artist whose desire to shatter the conventions of perceivable reality seems linked to a passion for art and his interest in diverse genres. In this fashion, the artist projects a personal universe capable of submerging us in reflection on diverse issues, ranging from the concept of artistic expression to the notion of individual human existence.
ARTPOPCLASSIC captures the main characteristic of Battaglini’s work, specifically the inclusion of elements drawn from classic art alongside elements drawn from Pop art - an inter-textual puzzle rich with references. Here we see classic works of art transported to the present day, re-contextualized in a contemporary artistic and social setting where new messages are sent that require the cooperation of the receiver. This fusion offers us a clear view of the artist’s inclination toward exposing the intrinsic contradictions of the human condition, drawing inferences from the contrasts that result from the juxtaposition of essentially antagonistic artistic styles: the traditional current, with its general connotation of elitist superiority, merged with an art that emphasizes the popular culture of the masses, converging in an attempt to subvert and relativize the value we attribute to Art – with a capital ‘A’. Battaglini revitalizes the subversive qualities of Pop art itself by placing the elements of that tendency in a contemporary setting. The confrontation that Pop elicited in its moment by inserting mundane elements into the sphere of art has ceased to be what we would deem subversive, immersed as we are now in a context where mass culture has clearly achieved the status of phenomenon – a condition from which there is no turning back. From this perspective, the work of Battaglini represents a fusion of classical art with Pop art – the latter with its own connotations – and converts both to fragments of a new esthetic that is, in some way, a reflection of the eclecticism and the fragmentation that are hallmarks of post-modernism. This conversion is emphasized by the technique used by the artist, taking full advantage of the technical possibilities of expression that we enjoy today; he starts with a digital image that is transferred to canvas using high quality inks, generally followed by airbrushing and acrylics. At this point, we are no longer confronting Art with its capital letter, given that even these transformative relationships between diverse types of art are accepted within the new cannon of artistic expression. Rather this is an esthetic proposal that transcends simple diatribe, entirely linked to the new media for artistic expression; this work requires certain spectator background if the symbols and references are to be appreciated and if we are to discover motive for criticism and reflection, not in the images, but in ourselves.
Battaglini’s fascination with art and artists, artistic movements, techniques and concepts has led him to develop a keen ability to conceive of the coexistence of diverse artistic styles and realities in a single composition. His work reflects the artistic influences that he has received throughout his life. Having entered art school, he studied the traditional canon, repeating and copying traditional referents for years, until this process was completed with the study of art history, where the artist acquired a particular interest in the avant-garde movements of the 20th century, especially surrealism. This interest is now reflected in his art, primarily the way in which, as Breton would say in the Second Surrealist Manifesto, the past and the future cease to contradict each other; they form parts of the same scene and come together to show us reality from a more distant viewpoint. Yet Battaglini’s is nevertheless a post-modern take on surrealism, as evidenced by the manner in which he juxtaposes diverse elements in order to achieve a unified whole. We might indeed use the term pastiche, considered by Frederic Jameson to be a sign of a post-modernism that has set aside parody. While Battaglini’s work is not parody, neither does it offer the neutrality of pastiche. It is tied to irony, given that the artist does not try to imitate other styles, but instead seeks to appropriate them, incorporating them into his work to start a dialogue that has the potential to push us into a critical posture inspired by a relationship with current society’s values and not by a contrast of styles.
While far from parody, this latent irony is evident in much of Battaglini’s work, which is occasionally tinged with a humor born of the contrasts that the spectator uncovers and may indeed find humorous. Still, this is a humor that almost always carries hidden messages, not decipherable at first glance, moving us to that imprecise border between irony and humor. As Schopenhauer declared, when serious issues are hidden behind jokes, there irony is born. And Battaglini’s work is always ready with an ironic slap in the face that may surprise us if we are initially satisfied with a simple recognition of the classic painting that he has appropriated; his play with references reaches beyond what might be read on the surface.
In this re-contextualization, classic paintings are combined with elements of pop culture and urban art. Each of Battaglini’s works offers a series of details that allow the spectator to gradually discover new meanings with a careful reading and a reflection on the dissolution by art of the barriers of time and space. In this manner, we experience a cultural and semantic shock that implies a series of contrasts and leads us to become aware of the diverse contexts presented by the artist. Battaglini offers a holistic view in his work, a pictorial unit in which diverse strands are intertwined and transformed to produce a new and significant universe where the spectator is responsible for the resolution of the semantic puzzle laid out before us. Both the capacity for polysemy possessed by painting and the multiplicity that Umberto Eco attributes to art both become manifest; works of art become a mode of communication that opens the way to diverse possibilities, to vast and significant spaces waiting to be observed from multiple points of view. As Battaglini himself maintains, his work thrives on the overlay of divergent realities - whether temporal, spatial or cultural – and the coexistence of extreme opposites, such as elegance and vulgarity, wealthy and poverty, the esthetic and the anti-esthetic, all with the objective of generating an ambiguous dialogue that requires the spectator to initiate a personal process of reflection, something that is not always so easy or comfortable to do.
This is an artist that is fascinated with a deeper analysis of the multiplicity of human existence and the multi-dimensionality of life, an artist who investigates the inherent relatively of prejudices, recognizing that they depend on their own temporal, spatial and cultural contexts. In the artist’s own words, “I am shocked how a single generational change (or a simple decision to live in another part of the world) can lead people to see things so differently, without any objective basis; hidden in our own contextual bubbles, we make decisions without looking outward to the unlimited currents of imagination and human potential. In this new age, with the evolution of knowledge and the elimination of barriers by new information media, I would like to invite the spectator to see things from another point of view… more open, from above the trees… I would like to demonstrate the relativity of everything, change paradigms, make people understand the power of imagination and force them to see things with a different focus.”
Battaglini shows a particular interest in knocking down the walls of the given, a necessity to glorify subjectivity and carry the spectator to a place that is beyond the apparent, aspects that make fill his work with connections and allusions that allow us to explore with a questioning mindset. In this way, through the dialogue that opens with the confrontation/ fusion of diverse eras and elements, the artist seeks to renew the focus of the spectator while highlighting the questions of the day, linked to information overload and the culture of consumption.
Upon reflection of Battaglini’s work, we observe that his paintings offer a number of different readings, due to the variety of references contained therein. The artist achieves this not only by transporting classic works to the present day, but also by combining them with graffiti, symbols related to Western culture, and elements of pop art, creating a harmonic mix that forces us to reconsider corresponding values and the reality in which we live. He lays bare the influence of consumerism on our way of living and thinking, referring not just to consumption of products, but also of the images, icons, and symbols that make up the fabric of our culture, our collective imagination, and our lives.
With this, Battaglini indicts the information glut that is a direct result of this new era of communication; many debates have already raged over the influence that this overload of information may have on our cognitive capacity. In this way, he generates dialogue that calls into question the border between the apparent and the real while evoking a series of contrasting emotions and forcing us into readings of his work from perspective frequently guided by irony. According to the artist, “irony is the weapon of choice if you can’t – or don’t want to – attack a more powerful enemy… In this case, human prejudices. This is, without a doubt, an artist who walks a tightrope in today’s world and has no qualms about calling out an incoherent society that sometimes appears to be operating in a parallel dimension, recklessly churning out a quantity of information that is impossible for anyone to process As a result, our proximity with our own environment appears to blind us; we are not sufficiently conscious of how our behavior might affect the planet and other people. In addition to delivering this message pictorially, Battaglini also addresses the spectator through words, text elements that are entirely compatible with painting, and can in fact enrich the message of an image, amplifying its polysemic potential. In Battaglini’s work, we can often encounter internal written motifs, as well as the titles of the paintings, such as It’s like a jungle sometimes and Gentlemen prefer blondes that, with their references from other media, such as literature or music, force us to reinterpret the originals and expand our perspectives. This is one of the ways in which the artist tries to capture the attention of the spectator while repeating his position that all thinking is relative.
Battaglini sees art as an extraordinary human capacity that holds unlimited power to transform preconceived ideas. He understands art to be a mode of expression that leads to reflection and has the power to open the eyes of the world and stimulate thought and imagination. As a result, Battaglini’s work is based on his belief that art is an elevated form of communication, frequently loaded with a significant emotional component and able to influence our surroundings. He affirms that if art is idea, as proposed by Duchamp, then the power to sow a new idea in the mind of the spectator, a different point of view, can create an infinite spectrum of possibilities. But Battaglini approaches this like a game, without imposed self-importance, free of messianic pretentions.
Here the spectator can find shattered socio-culture paradigms and a gap in space and time that is simultaneously ideological, one that creates multiple significant possibilities, all proposed in a style that coincides with post-modern setbacks. All of the references that we find in Battaglini’s work are inspired by the orgy of cultural consumption that has consumed art in its role as part of mass culture, proof that, while the artist may be trying to free us of conventions, judgments, and prejudices, he is doing so from an evidently humorous perspective, always capable of provoking an ironic glance on the part of his audience. The artist, in turn, uses his work to highlight the capacity of painting to serve as a form of subversive expression that, far from trying to answer society’s problems, is capable of serving as a form of interrogation. His work frequently shows that art can be a double-edged sword where esthetics becomes open and critical, prepared to attack the most deeply-rooted conventions of our collective imagination.
One could say that ‘encounter’ is the concept that best defines what it is that happens in the works of Marco Battaglini: an encounter between diverse eras and places, pictorial styles and artistic conventions, ideas and concepts. These are encounters that are simultaneously semantic shocks and formal conversations; they go beyond simple pictorial interplay and are able to generate conflicts in which the spectator is invited to reflect and reconsider perspectives on the main questions of the day. In a word, these encounters are clearly acts of defiance against our cultural hierarchies.
In art, there are sterile, defenseless encounters that do not manage to escape their disinterested insignificance, and there are others that, on the contrary, trigger unexpected consequences, chain reactions, intellectual firestorms. It goes without saying which type of encounter is provoked by Battaglini and his references, or how the diverse elements he unites on canvas spark dialogues after our encounters, igniting cognitive bursts that surround us with the relativity inherent in each of our thoughts.