Updated: May 7
"In a figure, the pose itself as symbol and language must communicate from across the room." Maria Battista.
The pose, yes, the pose is the thing. Here the artist captures in bronze what Sappho, that most famous of Ancient Greek lyric poets, expressed in words when she wrote, "Eros, the loosener of limbs, troubles me." Battista has shown the lovely softness of the feminine body here "loosened" in a languorous pose. The contrast of the softness of the body and the pose in the hard metal of cast bronze sets up an echo of the conflict indicated in Sappho's poetry by the words, "troubles me." This contrast between body and mind is further shown by how Battista has represented the woman's face. The head is thrown back in surrender, but the eyes are open. Even in this moment of willing vulnerability, the woman is considering the situation.
Maria Battista, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, from childhood always had an interest in art, as well as languge, literature, and international culture. Though she was drawn to the act of artistic creation early on, she felt it "safer" from the practical point of view to earn her living through teaching. Her Bachelor's and Master's degrees focused on Romance languages and literature, and she made her living by teaching Spanish and Italian. However, her innate attraction to the classic arts led her in the direction of producing art herself. She started with goldsmithing and began her artistic career as a jewelry designer, which as she says is how she is most prominently known. However, her primary endeavor these days is sculpture. She has traveled to Italy several times to study with master carvers there, as well as studying in Denver with a master sculptor from Russia. The international flavor found in her studies continues to be seen in the subject matter she sculpts.
Battista says, "I respond to soft things. That may sound odd coming from someone who carves stone and casts metal, but these substances are soft to me." That response to softness can be seen in the sculpted alabaster of this piece, Kanaloa. This ancient Hawaiian god is often represented by that most fluid of creatures, the dolphin. Kanaloa is the God of the Sea, the God of the Underworld, and a teacher of magic. The relationship to the sea is subtly shown by the dolphin that rises up in the crest of a symbolic wave. The choice of alabaster, a stone befitting the gods, is appropriate, as even its color calls to mind the foam that rides atop the ocean's waves. The artist took a deep dive into the watery shadow world of the deep and brought forth a representation of this magical lord of the mysteries.
"If drawing and painting replicate not the object itself, but rather 'the experience of seeing' the object, what is rightly the goal of figurative sculpture?" Maria Battista
The question Battista poses relates right back to the big discussion in the 15th and 16th centuries known as the "Renaissance Paragone," a debate over which was the superior art form, painting or sculpture. The sculptors of the day posited that sculpture was superior as it offers a true 3D experience of a work, which one can walk around to see all sides of the object. (Michelangelo, who painted and sculpted, found arguments for both.) Battista's question continues the exploration of facets of this paragone as she delves into various aspects of figurative sculpture. In light of that exploration, her work in clay can be highlighted. Sculpting in clay is often a step in the process of creating a work that will later be cast in metal. However, it is also something in and of itself. Below is one of Battista's sculptures in clay, Stephen Now.
Here, the artist's attraction to things that are soft is worked in a soft material. Yet, she is able to capture the angles and planes of this man's face, the squareness of the jaw, and the firm set of his mouth. The seriousness of the pose itself is highlighted by the eyes downcast in contemplation. At the same time, the subtle variations in what in life would be the complexion, and the gentle fall of hair, both work to soften this portrait. This play of point/counterpoint creates contrasts that prompt the viewer to think about the life lived by the owner of that face. It is not to say that a painted portrait would have done this better; it would simply have been done differently. However, there is something relating to the touchable that draws one to this scuptured portrait. Is that part of the goal of figurative sculpture?
"Visual art is inherently esoteric, that is, a sort of secret writing...secret even to the writer..." Maria Battista
This artist's love for language, literature, culture, and what they communicate is always present in her work, especially in her jewelry creations. The idea of the connection between writing and visual arts goes back to ancient civilizations. The Ancient Egyptians called the artists who painted the tombs and monuments, Scribes of the Shape. The Chinese connected poetry and painting, calling painting, Silent Poetry. Little wonder then that a modern day artist would see that connection as well and work with it. The creation seen below is called Secret Writing, and it is for us and particularly the wearer to interpret the meaning.
The sterling silver markings that surround the rich green of the Siberian Uravorite garnet druse seem somewhat Oriental, but perhaps they are just pre-historic markings that accompany an ancient petroglyph. Regardless, they speak, elegantly and eloquently of some distant prophetic saying brought forth into our world by the imagination of the artist.
These earrings of sterling silver, 24K gold and pearl, also bear a message to be deciphered by those who see them and especially by the one who wears them. They are called The Language of the Fan. They bring to mind Lisa See's award winning book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, in which Chinese women created a simplified version of written Chinese to communicate among themselves, under the radar of the men in their lives. These earrings hang with the elegance of Chinese and Japanese hair ornaments. The soft luminosity of the golden beige of the pearls have the low glow of an orb of light, while the gold and silver are subtle and subdued like something from Junichiro Tanizaki's work In Praise of Shadows, where the subtlety of low light is examined and highly complimented.
"The particular purview of the artist is to perceive order (or disorder), metaphor and meaning in the ordinary and to be something of a translator or medium between the unconscious and the known world." Maria Battista
In the sculpture below,Tao, the artist once again delves into a spiritual philosophy. The Tao, known as The Way, was first proposed in the writings of 6th century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, in his work Tao Te Ching. It was the philosophical counterweight to Confucianism and later Legalist philosophy. In the sculpture one sees the female figure holding on the tip of her finger a ball with the famous Yin/Yang emblem, which represents all polar opposites, such as light and dark, male and female. etc. Equally, the figure stands on a Yin/Yang symbol that seems to float, with its balance being distorted by the weight of the figure standing on it. The yang symbol bears the weight of the right foot as the left foot rises with the uplift of the yin symbol.
One thing to contemplate when looking at this sculpture is the choice of a woman to represent this philosophy first expoused by a man. It certainly fits within the philosophy itself, which is one of balance and harmony. The female figure balancing that yin/yang ball on her finger as she rides the floating symbol beneath her feet could rightly be seen as a symbol of the universal feminine. Or perhaps the Universe itself is feminine, as physicists tell us that it is ever expanding and giving birth to new stars, constellations, and galaxies.
"Creativity is a spiritual practice where no particular result is ever guaranteed, but where the impossible sometimes happens. I am grateful to get to play and sometimes struggle in this particular cosmic sandbox." Maria Battista
Here is the artist in her studio, surrounded by some of her works. She says that the exhibition of her work that she is most proud of took place in 2014 and was a one-woman show called Renaissance: Sculpture as Poetic Pilgrimage. In it were works from all of the genres she works in combined with poetry from various authors like Octavio Paz, Sappho, David White, Sylvia Plath, and others whose poetry interacted with her artistic creations. Another of her one-woman shows was entitled, "Quaternity" which focused on Jungian ideas about how humans group things into 4s (four seasons, four cardinal points, etc.). She was honored when one of her bronzes, Calypso, was featured on the cover of Colorado Journeys. Her works are currently on display at Shidoni Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in Colorado Springs' Old Colorado City at Hunter-Wolff Gallery. First Circle Studios is her company's name.
More of Maria Battista's work can be seen on
her Facebook page, Maria Battista, Etudes
She also has a page on the website of the Colorado Springs Gallery that represents her work.
Information can also be found on her webpage
For more on Marjorie Vernelle, see the author page at amazon.com/author/marjorievernelle
She also has an engaging art history blog that talks of painting and wine on ofartandwine.com
© Marjorie Vernelle 2020