Batia was born and raised in New York City. She later moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, where she lived for 19 years before relocating to her current city of Boca Raton, Florida. Batia's abstract paintings are packed with explosive energy and joyful colors. Although the work reflects a sense of intention, what viewers tend to notice most is the upbeat and celebratory quality of the paintings.
Want to know more about Batia's work? Scroll down to see our interview.*
How did you become an artist? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you discover your artistic side later in life? Did you go to art school?
Art is a wondrous manifestation of human being-ness to me. Being an artist is one of the great mysteries—I have come to believe that art itself, along with a Higher Power above— find us, grab ahold of us, form and direct us… being an artist is one of those unfathomable callings… I do come from an artistic family and it was encouraged in me, but never directive or pressure-filled. It just always fit me.
I remember in my early 30s I was researching studying to be a rabbi (when women were first allowed to) or an architect, later even a pastor—and I came to the realization that in being an artist, I could incorporate those interests and impulses within my artwork, and contribute to making a difference in the world through being a cultural worker, a laborer of doing-as-dreaming and dreaming-as-doing. I see myself as an artist-activator, as well as someone who has been compelled to create projects to minister to others’ needs both here and abroad, and have worked with many populations in need.
I have a long history of art education, both formal and informal, from classes as a kid to studying at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art school and the Art Students’ League as a young adult. I attended Cornell University, and in 1977 earned a B.A. at Purchase College. I did my field work at the Women’s Building in Los Angeles and consequently wrote my senior thesis on the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s. I also studied with great artists at the School of Visual Arts and at Hunter College.
I have been an artist coach myself, and an instructor and lecturer at NYU, New School, and various arts councils and conferences throughout the northeast. Most recently, I ran the art program at the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County in North Lauderdale, Florida.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it? In other words, please give a very basic description of the medium(s) you use, the overall style, etc.
I call my work Urban-Tropical-Cosmic, and this rubric contains all the paradoxes and parallels these three strands may evoke. I work abstractly, full of color and kinetic energy. I use acrylics, house paint, markers, and ink on canvas and wood. My practice comes from a place of aesthetic, formalistic rigor and whimsical immediacy. My bold, action-packed work is built up of many layers. I am using an almost full-body approach at times--stretching, bending, curving. I am always building up and suddenly changing the kind of marks I make, often even erasing or painting over parts that were painted already. Some layers include lines over the painted shapes, and brushstrokes with markers and oil stick over the surface, creating even more chance interactions, juxtapositions, humor, and sense of space and dimensionality on a basically flat, 2D plane.
Are any of the elements in your abstract paintings intended to portray things that viewers would recognize, or are they completely non-representational?
My work is generally non-representational, but occasionally one will catch familiar elements peeking through. I call these associative, almost incidental narrative fragments, or shards of story that may elicit a connection to the known and yet held within an abstract space of going-beyond, of surprise, uplift, and fresh wonder.
What do you hope that viewers will see or experience when they look at your work?
People say my work is joyful and hopeful. An artist-friend says my art is celebratory, like one big party. I like that!
I very recently watched a dear friend’s funeral in Jerusalem (very, very sad, yet full of hope and expectation). A family friend read a portion from a book--I think it was called “Imagine Heaven”--and someone in the book who'd had a near-death experience describes heaven in ways that I have partially experienced already in personal, spiritual, yet very real encounters with my Savior--from light and love being joined together and permeating everything to the brightest of colors being everywhere. Something resonated deep in me at the moment I listened to this reading and I was, like, "wow, am I prophetically painting what heaven is like without realizing it consciously? Oh my!" Color is so incredibly abstract and yet so emotionally influential, and it is a very big part of my art practice. Am I reaching for something I don’t even fully understand yet—how real and concrete color is, as well as my awe of all of creation? And why would I want to re-create what is already? I can paint realistically, but what’s the point, when I can paint beyond reality or in the interstices between natural earthly reality and the world of the spirit? And so any gift given to me, I offer to you, my precious viewers, appreciators, and collectors!
Can you give a specific example of choices you've made in a piece that are intended to convey your purpose?
I listen to exuberant music of all kinds when I work, albeit occasionally I paint in silence. So many parts of me are engaged in the present as I paint, solve problems, take risks. I told a studio mate recently that I probably sit and study my work for about the same amount of time as I paint. Painting in my studio is a place of communing in the present with my full self, with the G-d of my understanding, with the materials at hand, and with the most recent mark or brushstroke. Perhaps these moments of union are so full of splendor and fulfillment that as I throw my whole self into the process (mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually), the traces left behind--the fumes, so to speak--can sweep others along into the updraft of my intense joy!
Do you make other types of art besides paintings? If so, please tell us about those works.
I am engaged with local communities and municipalities where I live in South Florida, doing paid public art projects. I have worked with four or five local agencies where I design and paint on three-dimensional wood structures that people can interact with from themed picnic tables, playhouses, and little free-standing libraries. I have also done live art events where I paint and interact with others, sometimes inviting them to paint on my canvas, other times leading them in their own creations.
In my down time, I sometimes make small objects out of found materials, sewing accessories, and natural forms that I drag home from walks around my area: tree limbs, twigs, boot buckles, ribbons, wire, thread, small wooden cubes. I call these my anti-art art objects, including my Po-Funk Objets d’Arte.
In the 80s and 90s in NYC, I created window installations and solo performances in galleries, clubs, and conferences that combined words and objects filled with poetry and social commentary.
What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
To me, art can be a form of worship, play, labor, dancing, freedom, fooling around, and serious pursuit all rolled into one. Perhaps the comprehensiveness, the engaging of so many parts, is what gives me so much fulfillment. I also enjoy the mastery of the medium and sometimes even the yummy results, admittedly!
What is the most challenging thing about being an artist?
Sometimes there are aspects of suffering in being an artist from financial challenges, to having a refined nervous system, to social interactions and expectations, to household maintenance, to having to advocate for myself and others if there has been an abuse, lack of fairness, or misunderstanding in a professional agreement or a general systemic or institutional framework.
There's also an element of suffering to get the painting just right. Sometimes in the process of painting, the work can feel so terribly ugly or like a failure, and I need to stop and do other things or get some sleep, and I am on edge or battling negative voices in the head until the ugliness or lack of resolution with the work is amended or resolved.
Instability of finances, perfectionism, sensitive moods, and [lack of] proper self-care are probably the Big Four. Desiring more sales and help with sales is always an artist’s dream, including mine! Ultimately, I feel much and care much, so I need to balance my caring for others with being able to receive more and tend to my own needs.
Many art historians feel that women have been under-represented in traditional art spaces like museums, galleries, and universities. Do you agree, and if so, do you feel that today’s art world has closed the gender gap?
Thanks for this giant and insightful question. I was very involved with the feminist movement in the 70s - early 90s, particularly the feminist art scene on both the East and West Coast. I was part of the feminist art studio led by Betsy Damon through Cornell University, and wrote several papers (and my undergraduate thesis) on women in art history and literature, and the breakthroughs of art-making, and a new kind of art criticism and revisionist art history initiating from the furnace of the feminist art movement. I reached out to Judy Chicago when I was an undergraduate, and later participated in the program at the Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles in 1975. Back in NYC in the 80s, two of my window installations and many of my performances addressed women’s issues.
No, I do not think the gender gap has been totally eradicated. I am happy to see more serious attention being given women and artists of color recently, and I hope it's not just a “trend” but will continue. You know, “systemic” is a powerful word—I think the lack of inclusiveness is so covert and pervasive; it is in systems, education, attitudes, and even how we define art and art history, and who decides that what kind of art is worthy as an investment, etc.—not to speak of the battle of negative voices in our own heads for those of us who have experienced a second-class life experience.
I do think there have been a lot of improvements and changes, but more needs to be done. We will keep being artists, making art, pushing the bounds of energy and mystery, regardless!
Has the Covid-19 physical distancing situation affected your work? Are you currently making art? If so, what are you working on?
The pandemic has affected me in so many ways, good and bad. The “bad” has been that two group shows were shut down and an offer for a solo exhibition was off the table. One of the group shows opened later in the year, but was only shown virtually with no physical visitors allowed. Also, any opportunity for part-time work/income was closed off.
The “good” includes last summer 2020; I was able to get inexpensive studio space within a bigger art space, and that has really helped me come out of my shell during the lockdown—to work more, get feedback, and to share encouragement, resources, and opportunities with other artists. Thank you, Evan and Andrew of Zero Empty Spaces!
During this time, I increased my presence on Instagram and have attended many webinars to help artists. I was also selected to receive two COVID-19 related artist grants this past year: one from the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County, where I had been the Dina Baker Award winner in 2017, and the other from the City of West Palm Beach, where I had done two public art projects previously. This year during Christmas season, I held a live art event for them called “Abstract Pop!” along the beautiful waterfront, masks and all.
I believe that my artwork is getting stronger, more consistent, and more “me.” I am about to embark on a series of large works, 60” x 72,” for the first time (outside of an 8-foot mural I did up in Martin County a couple of years ago).
I was also recently contacted by a local gallery that works with clients and designers. The gallery owner has been following my work over the last two years and is offering me a non-exclusive contract, which we are in the middle of discussing. Say a prayer that all goes well and that it becomes a win-win-win proposition for all!
What other artists or art movements inspire you or influence your work?
I believe that the best artists carry inside them both the weight and glory of art history, as well as their own cultural, ethnic, and gender influences. Convention has it that you should know all of these things well, and then the breakthrough comes when you are working and all of these influences--including consciousness of self--are left behind, and the art-making process yields work that remains its own, standing alone as an immanent, separate, and new entity within a rich context, but presenting and projecting its own unique “personhood.”
I love a variety of art movements and artists, so many to name, from Matisse, Kandinsky, to the trajectory of abstract expressionism in the U.S. to Latin American surrealism, ceramics, and textiles, to African designs and beaded work, to traditional Judaica and Torah scroll covers, illuminated manuscripts and church architecture, to Italian Arte Povera, to NYC graffiti art and South Florida street art and murals. Some of my all-time faves include Judy Pfaff’s monumental installations of the 80s; Meredith Monk’s site-specific multi-media performances and concerts; Patti Smith’s raw, poetic, androgynous rock n’ roll; Keith Haring, a young colleague of mine in the East Village days; the Talking Heads; Richard Diebenkorn; and so many great artist friends and artists I have met and follow on Instagram!!!
What are some of your inspirations outside of the “Fine Art World?”
I consider myself to have an international sensibility drawn from my years in the downtown New York art scene, then living and working on the edge of the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, and relocation in 2015 to the multitudinous rhythms and diverse cross-currents of South Florida. My spiritual community, the Bible, my family and friends, and the commitment to art in the “public square” by local city and county officials have all inspired me to keep going, searching, reaching. I love music and I also love clean humor, particularly kids’ joke books and children’s literature. Living in Florida has also brought me closer to nature, and my curiosity has led me to study butterfly species, palm trees, and seed pods, as I also very slowly build an appreciation for local reptiles. ;-)
Building a body of work flying with the banner of Urban-Tropical-Cosmic allows and challenges me to bring all of these influences to bear when I enter the studio. I want to let the whole world into my work, and as much of my inner self wrestling and pouring out as humanly possible in each piece.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about your work or about art in general? Anything that our questions didn’t cover?
I think a lot about community: We have a very vibrant and supportive artist community here in South Florida, and groups of us are involved with public art projects and open studios together. Artists also need support of all kinds from the public. We are sidelined many times in our hustle-bustle culture--and yet, where would civilization be without beautiful design, family-friendly or historic murals, art that makes you laugh, think, or weep? Art is so important, and nurturing artists is perhaps even more important.
Regarding my work, I have recently been invited to sign with Big Art Now, a West Palm Beach gallery opening soon, to represent my work in the region. I have had solo and group exhibitions in the US and abroad. My artwork is in public and private collections here as well as in Israel, Europe, and Asia. I am available for university and local museum exhibitions, gallery representation, meeting new art collectors, private commissions, live art events, and public art projects that engage communities.
In my formal artist statement, I say: “I see myself as an artist-activator who ardently desires to deliver an upward arc of joy-filled hope in the current cultural landscape—a salvo of raucous celebration bursting forth with color and life in all their messy splendor. My function is to release energized images which visually “turn up the heat” where surface skins, shards of story, and ineffable glory collide.”
Peggie "Batia" Lowenberg's website is batialowenberg.com/. You can also follow her on Instagram: @batialowenberg.
*All images on this page are property of the artist, unless otherwise noted.