Walter Battiss: A South African Artist Ahead of His Time

Walter Battiss - A South African Artist Ahead of His Time

Walter Battiss was one of the most prolific and innovative South African artists of the 20th century. His work was characterized by its bold colors, whimsical imagery, and eclectic range of influences. Battiss was also a passionate advocate for South African art and culture, and he played a key role in promoting the work of other South African artists.

Early Life and Education:

Walter Whall Battiss was born on January 6, 1906, in the small Karoo town of Somerset East. He grew up surrounded by the vast, arid landscapes of the Karoo, an environment that would later influence much of his artistic vision. His early exposure to the rich rock art of the region also laid the foundation for his fascination with the mystical and the primitive. 

His journey into the world of art began at an early age, as he showed a keen interest and talent for drawing. And he actually began taking lessons at the age of 10. After graduating from high school, Battiss went on to study at the Witwatersrand Technical College in Johannesburg. Studying under the guidance of esteemed artists such as John Adams and Gregoire Boonzaier, he honed his skills and developed a unique artistic voice.

Walter Battiss Quote

“Nature is made by the artist and nature does not exist until the artist creates it in his own way. It is possible that the artist, in defining reality around him, makes a new kind of reality that generations after him will understand.”

Walter Battiss
1906 – 1982

Artistic Influences:

In the early 1940s, Battiss began to develop his own unique artistic style. He drew inspiration from a wide range of sources, including African rock art, European modernism, and the natural world.

He often blended elements of surrealism, abstraction, and primitivism in his work. And as his artistic style evolved over the years, it also reflected a deep connection to the landscapes, people, and mythology of South Africa. The vibrant colors and bold shapes in his paintings often captured the essence of the country’s diverse cultural tapestry.

Battiss’s work was known to be playful and humorous, but it also dealt with serious themes such as identity, race, and politics.

Bushman Art and Inspiration:

Walter Battiss had a profound fascination with the rock art of the San people, also known as Bushmen. His exploration of Bushman art was not just an artistic endeavor but also an ethnographic one.

Batiss traveled extensively to document and study these ancient rock paintings, incorporating their symbolism and forms into his own work. By blending the contemporary with the primitive he created a unique fusion in his style that celebrates South Africa’s cultural heritage.

Abstract Pioneering:

In 1949 Battiss befriended Pablo Picasso who would also have a noteworthy influence on his style.

As a prominent figure in the avant-garde art movement in South Africa, Battiss played a pivotal role in championing abstraction. His abstract works, characterized by bold colors, geometric shapes, and a sense of playfulness, broke away from conventional artistic norms.

Battiss believed that abstraction allowed for a more profound connection with the spiritual and the subconscious, and his art became a medium for transcending the mundane.

Legacy and Impact:

In the 1950s and 1960s, Walter Battiss gained international recognition for his work. He exhibited in major galleries around the world, and his paintings were collected by museums and private collectors alike. Battiss was also a prolific printmaker, and he produced hundreds of linocuts, lithographs, and etchings.

But Battiss’s legacy extends far beyond his canvas. His role as a teacher, writer, and art critic has left an enduring impact on the South African contemporary art scene. As a co-founder of the New Group and the Amadlozi Group, he played a crucial role in fostering a sense of community among artists, creating platforms for collaboration and dialogue.

His influence on subsequent generations of artists is evident in the continued exploration of identity, culture, and heritage in South African art.

Battiss died of a sudden heart attack in 1982 at the age of 76. He left behind a vast body of artwork that is celebrated for its originality, its humor, and its deep love for South Africa.

We are privileged to now offer certified prints of some of Walter Batiss’s most popular artwork. Printed with Archival Pigment Ink on 308gsm Acid Free Cotton Rag Paper, these Art Prints are sold unframed in different sizes, including: A4, A3, A2 and an Extra-Large (71cm x 50cm).

Be sure to go and have a look at all of them below 🤩

Walter Battiss was not just a painter; he was a cultural ambassador, a provocateur challenging the status quo, and a visionary who dared to imagine and create beyond the boundaries of convention.

His art continues to resonate, inviting us to explore the rich tapestry of South African identity and to embrace the kaleidoscope of colors that make up our shared cultural heritage. In the brushstrokes of Walter Battiss, we find a celebration of diversity and a testament to the enduring power of artistic expression.

Walter Battiss was a truly unique and gifted artist that used his artwork to celebrate life, creativity, and the power of imagination!

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