Peter Batchelder | Artist of the Week

Born in Beverly, MA, on Boston’s North Shore, Peter Batchelder has lived throughout New England in coastal and western Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard, Vermont, and New Hampshire. He trained in studio art at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (BFA 1987) under artists Jack Coughlin, Lionel Gongora, John Grillo, and Hanlon Davies.

Having established himself as a successful Creative Director and designer, Peter continued pushing his studio work and opened a small gallery in Vineyard Haven, on Martha’s Vineyard, where he lived year-round for three years, in the early ’90s. Upon returning to the mainland, he co-founded, as Creative Director, a web design and software company based in New Hampshire, while maintaining his studio work. His work is represented by prestigious galleries in the Boston area, Vermont, Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Hilton Head Island, SC. Peter also annually donates work to benefit local nonprofits, including Boston’s WGBH public television and Fenway Health.

“Throughout my life I have had the benefit of living in different rural environments within New England. From the coastal landscapes of Massachusetts, to the woods, mountains and farmlands of New Hampshire and Vermont I have experienced the differences in nature, geography and light in these varied environments. Childhood interests in architecture and archaeology have led me to consider the context of time-worn structures within the New England landscapes. I am fascinated on many levels when coming across a barn or seaside cottage.

From an artist’s perspective I am interested in the nature of the architecture, how it sits within its landscape, color and light. From a personal perspective, I find myself often curious about the story of the building: who built it and why; the many people who have lived or worked in the building; how the landscape may have changed around the structure over the course of years. I find that the curiosity I have about the building intertwines with the creative process in my interpretation of the architecture and landscape in one image.

In some of my work I feel that the outcome is that the architecture serves as the sentry for the landscape and in other cases the opposite. Because I remove extraneous details from both the landscape and architecture I paint, it is my hope that a viewer will be challenged by the image to let their own curiosity create a story. I have long been influenced by the works of Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer for their approach to depicting the landscapes around them. And for color, I have loved the abandonment of “real” color found in the work of Wolf Kahn and Richard Diebenkorn…particularly their use of light and color to define subject and mood.

I typically begin a piece with multiple sketches in either graphite or charcoal to work out the composition. Then I often transition to small pastel studies to experiment with palette. I use many layers of paint in my work to allow me to pull the undercolor to the surface and create depth and movement to highlight form and the way light defines a subject.”

Peter Batchelder, Artist Statement

An Interview with Peter Batchelder

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Peter Batchelder, and I’m an artist.

Why do you do what you do?

I started making art, like many artists, as a young kid. At first, I loved rendering what I saw in front of me, drawing realistically anything I could. I did it because I loved the process of creating an image. Decades later, that simple truth continues to drive me. I love the process just as much now but don’t pursue realistic representation of the subject, but a more abstract and personal interpretation.

How do you work?

I start with a scene that inspires me to make a painting of it. I love rural, coastal, wide-open country and the architecture that sits within it. It’s something we all relate to…shelter within the wild landscape, and when I find a scene, I make a quick sketch or take a photo. Back in the studio, I draw that scene in charcoal. This allows me to modify the composition by leaving things out that aren’t necessary and perhaps adding things I want to be there but weren’t in reality. Charcoal allows me to “erase” the reference to color in the reference materials. Working from this charcoal sketch, I start the painting and create the palette I want…not try to create a palette that matches the scene’s reality. From there, the painting comes together, with decisions made all along the way. Color choices are often made on the fly, and modifications to the composition often continue until the painting is complete.

What’s your background?

I grew up the son of a headmaster of a private school and took drawing lessons from the art teacher at the school, often sitting on campus drawing the school’s old buildings. I fell in love with drawing and knew II wanted to be an artist. Early on, I applied to art school in Connecticut and was not accepted. I then applied to another art program. Upon receiving yet another rejection, I drove to the school and knocked on the art department chairperson’s office door, and asked to see my submissions up against those who were accepted.

Surprisingly, this person obliged, and in so doing, said, “I don’t know why I rejected you… you’re in!” From that point on, I committed myself to becoming a full-time artist, regardless of what else I would need to do to make a living. I waited tables while in college, then after graduation, worked as an advertising designer for a couple of newspapers, then for a university in Boston in their communications/design department…then several stints as a designer, creative director, all the while continuing to draw and paint at night, weekends, and anytime I had free time. When the kids were young, and after work and taking care of them, I worked into the night on a body of work I hoped would allow me to get some gallery attention. My wife, Kim, brought a piece to a local gallery/frame shop, and the owner loved it and offered to do a show. The show was a success and was quickly followed by several area galleries asking for work. As each opportunity came along, I continued to push my work further away from pure realism and m personal interpretation through composition and color.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?

Constant work. Self-critique without self-criticism. Create something that brings something positive to the lives of others.

What role does the artist have in society?

There are as many answers to this as there are artists. Some feel they need to change society through their work, and I think that’s great. But for me, I feel less interested in affecting society and more interested in affecting individuals. I have been told that a painting has brought hope to viewers undergoing very difficult personal challenges…a cancer survivor who was uplifted by pieces on display at a cancer hospital, for instance. I’ve had buyers comment that bringing a piece into their West Coast home brings back memories of their earlier lives on the East Coast. But more often, when people comment that this piece or that is “beautiful,” I feel I am contributing something…beauty. I paint because I love making pieces I hope others will find beautiful, and that makes them happy. So in that sense, if my work brings happiness to an individual, and perhaps to many individuals, then my contribution to society is, I hope, a positive one.

How has your practice changed over time?

I continuously strive for simplification and abstraction.

What work do you most enjoy doing?

Drawing is the foundation of everything I do. Working in charcoal allows a quick, monochromatic interpretation of the scene. Drawing again on the canvas allows more editing, and the process of creating the foundation of the piece is where the success of the piece is determined. The actual painting process is also enjoyable, but it’s a constant process of decision making, paint application, etc. Drawing is pure creativity.

What themes do you pursue?

In a literal sense, I pursue the architectured landscape– structures within the landscape. From a slightly more profound level, I look to create quiet, peaceful, and solitary images. I’ve been told some of my pieces convey a sense of loneliness. If so, that’s not my intent. But creating images void of people…or even the presence of people (i.e., the stuff people use…cars, trucks, tools, etc.) could be seen as loneliness, but to me, it’s solitary peacefulness. That sense we all have (some more than others, maybe), where simply being alone, in a beautiful place, is paradise.

What’s your favorite artwork?

Of mine: A small canvas with a blocked-in sketch of a coastal landscape that marked a breakthrough in how I paint.

Of another artist: Very difficult, but one painting I looked at constantly as a younger, aspiring artist was Jamie Wyeth’s “Twin Houses.” There was something powerful in the simplicity of the composition, the emptiness of the landscape, and the solitude of the setting that I just loved. Like most, it’s almost impossible to point to one painting as your favorite, but this piece inspired me, at a young age, to strive to capture that sense of peaceful solitude.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.

Watching my daughter draw and spending hours working on drawings or paintings. Seeing her passion to create from a very young age (she used to work alongside me in my studio) has been my greatest inspiration, as she exhibited that natural love for art that I felt as a kid. She is my real-life inspiration.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

I believe fully in the value of work as being key to living an artistic life. I’ve known people who went to art school with me, many of whom long abandoned their desire to create art. And I’ve known (and know) a good number of people who later in life picked up a brush, or a potter’s wheel, or a pencil, and started creating. Whatever your tool, or medium, it’s about daily work… committing 5 minutes or 5 hours, per day, working. And as long as you love what you’re doing, and it brings you satisfaction, it’s a worthy pursuit.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to and why.

The Wyeths (NC, Andrew, and Jaime): Love their focus on place, on simplicity. Edward Hopper: His architecture is beautiful, as is his use of light. Wolf Kahn: Brave and childlike use of color.

What’s your favorite or most inspirational place?

I love the country, and I love the coast. Being in either is a goldmine of inspiration.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

An artist friend, many years ago, watched me sketch in a composition of an old house I was about to paint on Cape Cod– a very simple structure set in a beautiful, scraggly coastal landscape. The house had a porch on it. And because it was there, part of the house, I sketched it in. My friend, an older experienced artist, said, “why are you putting the porch in there?” I said, “well, because it’s part of the house.” To which he replied, “just because some [expletive] stuck a porch on his house, doesn’t mean you have to paint it. Paint it out.” So… since then, “painting out” unnecessary stuff has been a part of my process.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

To keep working. For me, it’s all about work. I love what I do and want to continue doing it as long as I can…and for the work to continue to evolve. Work is the key to everything else that may come as a result of your daily efforts.