Gil Batle: A Story of Revival

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord from the fish’s belly. And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.  -Jonah: 2:1-2

  Courtesy of Ricco/Maresca Gallery and Gil Batle

Courtesy of Ricco/Maresca Gallery and Gil Batle

At first glance, the scenes on artist Gil Batle’s delicately sculpted ostrich egg shells look like romantic scenes from Victorian carved ivory, or scrimshaw ships etched on whale bone. But as one looks closely, a darker, vivid pictorial emerges.  

This is Batle’s own story, a story drawn from the 20 years spent in California prisons for forgery and fraud. It’s an astonishing peek of what it's like to be locked in a circle of hell, living death. Batle has rescued himself from the deathlike horror by bringing it to life in works of stunning craftsmanship.

Ironically, Batle's skills as a forger rescued him from the horror of incarceration. “The prison ‘artist’ was like a magician,” he recalls. “Even the toughest convicts were in awe at the artists’ skills.”

Transforming brutality into beauty is a consistent theme in his work and life.  After his release and subsequent move to the Philippines, he began carving his memories of prison life on ostrich egg shells, using a dentist’s drill to fashion characters and scenes, separated by images of chain-link fencing, razor wire, and handcuffs.

The creative experience is freeing and yet, painful. “I actually have to go back [in my mind] to prison to capture that feeling of being inside that place,” Batle says. “It’s a relief when I look up from the egg and I’m reminded that I’m not in there anymore.”

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