Ed Bateman — teacher, printmaker, and contributor to 15 Bytes — once said, “Every object exists in two worlds. One is the tangible that we know through our senses, and another exists only in our minds.” He might have added that we dress the things in our minds in sensual attributes borrowed from our recollections of tangible things. In other words, most of us dream (paint, sculpt, write) of things that already are.
In 3-D animation, a name erroneously suggesting that its products must move, a computer augments the mental space of imagination, becoming a less negligent assistant that has the ability to spray ink on paper — to print out — or to project as an image of pure light exactly what it conjures. Pixar and Ghibli are content to use this process to eliminate the redundant business of painting cells and that clumsy Victorian machine, the camera. They go straight from idea to digital projection, but the results still look like cartoons. Ed Bateman takes his process further, creating printed images possessing the optical authority of photographs, surpassing (in this single dimension, surely) the painted images of Dali, the Photo-Realists, and Utah painters like Ron Richmond and Chris Young.
Bateman’s prints, an amalgam of empirical and even scientific evidence with a poet’s tranquil reflection, have the strengths and the limits of Surrealist art. That is, they did until his most recent work, which includes a series of manipulated tintypes on view at the Phillips Gallery through March 13. Here genuine Victorian gentlemen, ladies, and children pose with their most prized possessions: their robot companions, servants, and pets. Bateman envisions perfectly how autonomous robots — still imaginary creatures a century after the original tintypes were made — would have looked if the Victorians had dreamed them, and inserts them seamlessly into the 19th century. It’s a small step for him, technically, but a huge one conceptually. In them, Ed Bateman accurately allegorizes and skewers the abandoned antique contraption most viewers assume him to be dependent on: the camera that can only reflect and never truly create.