4 - 20 June 2004, Tacit Contemporary Art, Thornbury

En’shroud is Timothy Bateson’s new visual investigation into body image, layered pattern and the subtle contrasts created by limited tonality. These works employ varied scale, medium and colour range whilst working in a series of related pieces. Imagery from previous bodies of work becomes the source point for new ways of depicting a stratum of personal history.

Following on from the em’bedded series of works, the new digital images continue to involve the body image floating deep within a film of decoration. With the earlier photographs there is a perception of the figure ‘coming out’ of the darkness, so the light and patterning seems to be more about ‘revealing’.

These earlier and darker warm earth-toned works sought discover that which was embedded in the body and embedded within the concept of self - like a chrysalis opening they were a metamorphic journey beneath the silken threads of fabric design. These works had a more natural feeling in spite of the almost Baroque use of dramatic light, partly due to their life-scale size.

With the new works in en’shroud, Bateson reaches a lighter tonality and the crumbling and scarred overlaid surfaces become the covering with which to wrap this older self-conception and allow it to pass on. The new works feature a prominent body piercing that locates the images as more contemporary and less timeless as its crescent echoes across the pictures. By visually locating time and a more overtly gay branding, Bateson moves into these larger than life torsos - a grandiose body with exaggerated brushstrokes lacquering down the ornamental motifs. In these later works the fabric ‘veil’ has now been achieved by the repeated forms taken from the tablecloth belonging to his mother’s dining table - a decorative item with a main function to be a protective covering. Made with an extra protective layer of gloss clear plastic, the pretty lace cloth always had a contrasting coloured material laid beneath to reveal more of the crochet pattern and give extra dimension of depth through layering and colour.

The word ‘enshroud’ means to cover, disguise, envelop or hide, with the shroud usually describing the garment or cloth used to wrap a dead body.It has other connotations of a screening mist, a protective covering for a piece of equipment and even a pattern of ropes or cables used to stay a mast in a nautical setting (many ropes knotted together by a sailor might look like crochet).

Taken on their own, an ‘en’ or an ‘em’ are both measurements used in printing type, and Bateson had previously utilised the title of em’bedded to suggest both something deep within and also a sectioned/measured view of the body. En’shroud works in a similar way (with ‘en’ as a one half width of an ‘em’) and so again the title word operates with connotations of breaking up the image into smaller grids and parts.

Interestingly ‘en’ and ‘em’ are also used as prefixes to start words that mean such things as; put in or on, go on or into, surround or cover with, furnish with, cause to be in a certain condition. En’ as a measurement therefore can be seen in Bateson’s works as the partitioned view, the body is sectioned and divided by the grids of the earlier kitchen tiles piece (tiles all touch worn and the products of ‘domestic renovation’). Missing the legs, these bodies exist within the traditions of portraiture, but with the absence of hands/touch they can only invite the visual touch of viewer’s eyes.

The almost total omission of a head leads to a heightening of this torso as body only. The form is thereby a physical object rather than personalised individual, and it is especially interesting when in this way an artist scrutinises and objectifies their own body (not another subject’s) for the purposes of art making. That long obsessive stare at what one’s body is and does can be aligned with the intense self gaze of Egon Schiele for instance but we are not confronted here by the longing that one sees in Schiele’s eyes.

In concept the title en’shroud invites a parallel with the Shroud of Turin – that legendary vestige of funereal cloth that wrapped the body of Christ and was so permeated by His energy and effected by His body that it displays as a ghostly presence. As a reminder of touch it has an intimacy that is infinitely precious to those who believe.

Whether or not that relic is authentic is hardly the point, although the argument is battled out passionately. Its power lies in its function to act as a trigger for the once physical presence of a beloved – a stand-in like a photograph that is lovingly caressed with the eye when access to a person has passed to memory.

What then of Bateson’s en’shroud works? What of these traces of existence left by the artist’s touch upon paper and wrapped onto stretchers? What can we make of the energy of light tracing a likeness onto digital film, or the truth that his mother’s existence and quirks left a relic of a tablecloth used for domestic ritual (that now wraps around the son’s naked body) and then this memento forms a part of his own belief in who he is?

Using photography presented for Bateson an ability to represent an ‘emotional truth’, a more faithful documentation than the previously favoured painting, drawing and print media. Photography enabled a looking into the glass for the first time and really recognising/ acknowledging what was there.

Gazing into the en’shroud photographs we find a torn edge of a broken tile or masonry, the shadow of the hand that wraps around the waist to groin like a rope. The flesh may be pale with a green tinge (I was relieved to see the dark ‘decay’ spots are actually just part of the small circular pattern of the shrouding fabric) or muted red and brown. The body/torso is open and displayed - at once vulnerable and revered.

Bateson’s smaller drawings, however, return to an abstracted space of his earlier career and investigate the notion of self image without showing the body – a question originally posed by a past curator of Bateson’s work as to whether the self-portrait could appear by implication in works not presenting the figure within a larger body of work.

What occurs instead is an aspect or essence of self and the artist’s obvious aesthetic – unlikely to translate in such a way if isolating a single frame from this series onto a solitary wall.

The drawings display Bateson’s fascination with a limited palette, challenging the depth that can be achieved within a restricted tonal range and how subtle changes appear more dramatic with the absence of stark contrast.

Whilst these pieces don’t directly reflect flesh they are still reminiscent of the figure works. They display selections of similar contrasts and tonality as the larger body photographs, depicting passages soft and crumbling, and they explore depressions of space (skin?) in dark receding patches like a mole or the soft dimpled shadows running down the skin of the spine. Some of these have the recurrent mandala symbol from an earlier series of works also extracted from the family tablecloth.

In this way both the large photographs and the smaller ‘body absent’ pieces derive and recycle image sources from previous series and combine these into new forms. In other linking works are two very dark monochromatic lithographs again sectioned into broken grids, as light caresses the form of the body emerging/submerging into blackness.

Bateson presents the works in en’shroud as another cycle of peeling and re-wrapping the history of self and the layered history of an image, displaying a tactile and fragmented beauty.

Kerrilee Ninnis
Tacit Contemporary Art Gallery, Thornbury