Steeped in the Fires of Natural Wonder
Textured Watercolors by Penny Batelli
Designs of spiral, ribbon and wave shapes in natural and intentional materials have contemplative, restorative qualities. Rhythms appear in shape, texture and placement, giving weight to resonance. Form and function meld to provoke or elicit. Each of these elements play in Penny Batelli’s landscape installations and botanical themed prints. Her works are experiential journeys in a therapeutic environment conducive to sensation or contemplation. The landscape designer/printmaker’s intuitive approach uses a wide range of material knowledge gained in a lifelong pursuit to make a deep connection with the natural world.
Only in time looked back on can one see the phases, episodes and events that fuel the expressive furnace. As a kid dabbling at arranging rocks in patterns, a teenager cleaning neighbors’ yards for spending money and a young adult working for landscape companies cutting and hauling, Batelli would come to know a wide range of plants and materials. “I wanted to stay in the field,” Batelli recalls. “Installing and maintaining gave me a sense of what could be good design on the Earth and paper palette.” Being in the field—dirt under her fingernails, sweat on her brow and a soulful eye on possibility—ignited the fire in her belly to create.
“A deep connection with the natural world and career experience in landscape architecture influences my botanical prints.” The printmaker now says, “I am easily inspired by nature’s design, fascinated by exploring the bold forms and textures found there.”
Batelli explored printmaking in her early twenties while working day jobs for landscape maintenance companies. Following a classic pattern of development, Batelli focused her passion in the art present in nature by building on her knowledge base. Channeling her lifelong experience and soulful approach into an education track culminated in the master thesis, “The Therapeutic Values of Gardens and Landscapes.” As she moved into her business-building career track, the printmaking artist faded into shadowy embers.
“My landscape designs come from the point of view that plants and gardens promote and enhance health and well-being,” Batelli says. “Combined with my clients’ specific needs, the opportunities and constraints of their surrounding environment—built and natural—became my creative outdoor spaces palette.”
Through her company, Blooming Earth, Batelli designed and installed therapeutic landscapes of plantings, rock, water features and sometimes re-purposed items arranged to induce physical and psychological movement and exploration. “I want people to be drawn outside, to take a journey every time they step into their yard,” she says. Batelli asks us to be in the space of a place, to use it as an opening to be present in the moment. She does this in a variety of ways, from combining contrasts or juxtaposing complementary images.
Swales and berms are utilitarian features in landscape design; gathering, capturing and distributing rainfall to plants. Batelli’s designs range from addressing water-wise plantings with meditative pathways to whimsical installations like Lady Slippers. “Healing landscapes are holistically created and offer multi-sensory stimulation, presenting an outdoor living space for introspection, contemplation, meditation and personal grounding,” Batelli writes in her Blooming Earth brochure. “These restorative designs allow for a richer experience with nature, promoting a connection to nature’s processes by providing the opportunity to witness and care for plants.”
Transforming a residential yard into a Batelli-influenced Eden is a work of love and commitment that may take years before fruition is evident. Many older homes have strands of water-thirsty hedges, while some newer residential lots are thoughtlessly populated with decorative plants. Each requires a partnership between homeowner and Batelli that satisfies both. Phoenix Home and Garden and Tucson Lifestyle magazines have featured her work updating landscapes into 21st century sensible designs.
Her new renditions of the botanical monotypes include materials from the desert and ornamental plants she handles in her landscape design business. Her abstract images reveal an exploratory and deeply personal process. Printmaking appeals to Batelli for its versatility. “Arranging pods, seeds or spines on a palette board, taking an impression and inking it to produce different effects is very satisfying,” she explains. Technique developed over time until her “experimenting with layers and textures on the matrix created abstractions.”
“Printmaking as a medium sets up a symbiotic and dynamic relationship between me, the inked printing plate and the press,” muses Batelli. “The printing process evokes mystery, excitement and anticipation as the paper is lifted to reveal the unique characteristics of each image.”
Batelli’s printmaking exhibitions have been wide-ranging and varied since 2012, when she had produced a critical mass of pieces to choose from. She has shown at the Raven Gallery in Prescott, annual Print and Photography exhibitions at Tucson International Airport, the Tucson Museum of Art and throughout the Tucson gallery circuit.
“Recently, I have been exploring mixed media, experimenting with collage and applying watercolor over prints,” she says, turning the pages of a heavy portfolio, each one an example of her words. “The artistic growth and expansion I strive for is revealed in the depths and layers of these mixed media pieces.”
Over four decades, Batelli has evolved what she does, from moving rocks around, cutting, planting and maintaining grounds, to transforming them into therapeutic gardens. She has developed a spiritual attention on natural forms that has become new fuel for her furnace, hot and bright, lighting the creative expression of her core interests.
Dale Bruder is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings Tucson. Connect with him at 520-331-1956 or DaleBruder.com.