Bill Bateman

oil paintings & watercolors
Contact Information

2 West 90th Street
New York NY



reprint from THE IDEA MUSEUM
Spring 2003

The Surprising Art of Bill Bateman
by Lorette C. Luzajic

Bill Bateman’s art work reminds me of graffiti and of Joan Miro, so I was surprised to learn that he spent fifteen years in office space planning, and that his prolific expanse of works are inspired by boring sales meetings.

“I first became aware of these things during company meetings,” he confesses. “I’d just be phasing out, and drawling doodles in my notebook. I would draw a line and see what came out of it. It was nervous doodling.”


Bill is a quiet sort of guy, not used to praise or interviews, and not really used to calling himself an artist. “I use the word painter more than artist,” he says. “I suppose that I paint, so I call myself a painter. The word art means more than painting, it dances around a lot of things and never seems to get to the centre.”

He isn’t comfortable either with style labels like ‘surrealism’, although his work might fit into the surrealist mantra, born of daydreams and thoughts that reflect patterns of his unconscious mind. “I don’t like the word surrealism. It’s limiting. But what those folks did was just let things come out of them. It was just about letting it happen.”

Bill chose not to paint things that he sees, but to work with imaginary images. “There seems to be little reflection today about what is still the mystery and wonder of being alive. Everything in our lives appears matter-of-fact and more and more separate from the natural world. While painting, I’m trying to turn away from such things and somehow trying to tap in or allow a creative process, or simply a natural process, to take over. To get to a place without answers, to someplace where there is room for reflection. I can’t explain why the images that come out of me do. I can only say that I have learned how to allow it to happen.”

He explains that he gains great pleasure from painting the images. “I try to paint in a way that leaves room for a viewer of my work to wonder about things on their own. Perhaps the best question that I have been asked is, ‘What’s that?’”

Allowing himself to imagine and reflect means that Bill doesn’t have a particular agenda of things he is trying to say as a painter. “I’m not sure there’s anything I’m trying to state,” he says. “It’s always fascinated me how they really just happen. They aren’t planned or preconceived. I start drawing and suddenly, there’s a thing. It’s a mystery.”

Bill works in his studio, which is in a New York building where over thirty other artists work as well. “I’m really fortunate to live in this city and be able to see so much. I get turned on by the other painters and sculptors. It’s amazing to just see people come and create. Some are good and some aren’t, but it hardly matters. Just seeing them do it matters.”

Of the more famous people who inspire Bill and his imagination, any viewer familiar with art history sees a connection to Miro. Miro’s style melded cartoon-like, hallucination-style figures and signs into loose, abstract backgrounds. “I look closely at works by Kandinsky, Dubuffet, Calder, and Miro”. Bill also feels his work is inspired in part by cartoon artists. Indeed, many of his works are like quilts of bizarre characters, with endless scenarios and details. Others are squiggles that take on a life behind murky, hazy oil strokes, doodles coming alive from the shadows of the mind.

These shadows and creatures and scenarios that play out on the canvas before him really tell their own story, made up in a visual language that asks the viewer to play inside the painting until they form their own storybook of what is going on. And that’s the story Bill wants to tell, one he has no words for himself that his paintbrush tells for him. He isn’t overly concerned about fitting in or making a splash in the art world. “I’m not very good at promoting myself,” he admits.

"Everyone is trying to be noticed, yet no matter what you are doing, there are a whole lot of people doing the same thing. If someone says you are breaking new ground, you really aren’t that far away from the rest. Styles are driven by marketing. Music, clothing, art, everyone wants to be new and the next thing. But it’s nonsense. If something is beautiful, it’s beautiful.” And that’s subjective, absolutely. The truth was told thousands of years ago in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. There is nothing new under the sun.

Creation, therefore, is everything, and regardless of what comes in and out of style, you are free to explore your own style. Bill just keeps doodling and lets the rest take care of itself. His paintings sell themselves. Most of the sales come through visitors to his studio at 515 Greenwich Street. It was hard “breaking in”, a truth most artists know, if they are lucky enough to sell anything at all. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it. As Bill says, “I just paint.”

Additional writings by Lorette Luzajic