Ben Blatt and the Art of Watercolor

Kristin Sancken


When watercolor emerged during the Renaissance, botanical artists quickly solidified their place as the most ambitious and accomplished painters working in the medium. These nature-based illustrations are among the oldest and most important traditions in watercolor painting. Many contemporary watercolor painters continue to promote the medium, hearkening back to traditional concepts of rendering, clarifying, and idealizing nature in full color with painstaking technical precision.


Brooklyn-based artist Ben Blatt has emerged as one of the most exacting watercolorists in the contemporary art world. It would be hard to describe Blatt’s work without using the word striking. His lush paintings of overgrown terrariums and botanical bell jars open ones eyes to elaborate fantasy worlds full of ornate details, exquisite visual components, and utopian narratives. Blatt’s pieces are evocative of a natural reverie completely encompassing the infinite mystery and fragility of the world around us.


Unlike most artists who work in this medium, Blatt’s interest in watercolor painting began solely as a practicality. While traveling through Europe in college he could not carry anything but watercolors and a sketchbook. As he slowly started to understand the medium through the slow process of sculpting out light and rendering line, Blatt began to strengthen his signature creative approach.


Surrounded by historical iconography, he found himself inspired by studying the grotesque. This obsession with the aberrant eventually led Blatt to create his own grotesque works that married the precious with the absurd in an anomalous artistic vocabulary.


While at first glance Blatt’s work seems deeply rooted in tradition, his process is anything but. Innately interested in the inadequacies of modern technology, Blatt will often look at the microscopic cell structure of plants or bugs to inspire new visual characteristics in his work. As he puts it, “I’ll try and look for the glitch where perfect vision falls apart and is out of reach. You almost don’t trust an image any more if you don’t see pixels, if you can’t zoom in on it. The detail on that is so natural to me. I’m really inspired to see when distortions are pushed to the extreme.”


Though traditional collage is still a very big part of his modus operandi, Blatt has found a recent affinity for creating hyper realities on the computer. He begins by layering image upon image in Photoshop to construct his elaborate compositions and determine color arrangements. Once the collage process is finished, the intensive and time-consuming task of painting the piece follows.



Blatt works anywhere from 10 to 14 hours a day mixing paint, breaking down color palettes, and re-applying his brush over and over again. However, this laborious process coincides with the eminence in his work. “The medium takes you to a sublime place,” Blatt offers. “There is something about the repetition and the line. You almost go into a meditative state. I like the whole process of carving out life and bringing life into something else.”


His paintings often begin with a simple base idea and end in a bottomless amalgamation of visual and emotional references. The artist purposefully leaves out a personal narrative and instead leaves it to us to decipher meanings in the piece. He finds it important to reward the viewer by allowing them to build their own stories and see things that aren’t there.



To Blatt, the assimilation of references is more interesting than creating work that is overly romanticized. “I’m really interested in people taking an image in their head to other places, the sublime, the fragility of things around us that we don’t really take time to look at.” He says,” One thing I can say about watercolors is that it can be so expressive but it’s also so fragile.”


While Blatt’s distinct creative approach and visual language make his works seem almost whimsical, it is the underlying grotesque qualities that make them pervasive. His obsession with time, birth and death, decaying infrastructures, and constant evolution are masked behind bold color application and playful rendering. However his lack of pretention, and ability to illustrate the magic of nature, make Blatt’s paintings accessible to almost anyone. Often using cheerful colors to mask more cryptic, somber emotions, his work can be seen as both decorative and dark, fantasy and reality, hopeful and haunting.


After I got past the awe of his intrinsic talent and methodological eccentricity, I found an unequivocal rarity in Blatt’s art. His enigmatic work is darkly amusing, aesthetically pleasing, yet holds a clandestine quality that visually actualizes the beauty of life’s anti-poetry. Undoubtedly, Blatt’s unorthodox approach to creation will continue to bring him success in the contemporary art market while embellishing the narrative of an oft overlooked medium.


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Author Bio:

Kristin Sancken is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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