Leslie Batty draws trashy inspiration from Georges Seurat
1. The water bottle caps came first.
Long before Leslie Batty sketched out the designs for the four one-of-a-kind dresses she’s making for Trashique, the Fresno Art Museum’s fashion fundraiser, she was collecting caps with the enthusiasm of a survivalist stocking an underground bunker. Her husband brought home caps from the water bottles at work. She grabbed them at art receptions, where bottled water is ubiquitous. Friends set them aside in bags.
A woman at Batty’s local recycler set aside caps for her, which made Batty feel particularly good, because this particular recycler was just throwing them away.
Though Batty paints big canvases, she revels in small details. She’s an incrementalist. The thought of a few bottle caps transformed into art instead of going into a landfill makes her happy. Every item she rescues from the trash has the same, world-changing potential.
She loves this part of the process. Her family room is filled with items collected for Trashique: a pile of discarded umbrellas in one corner; empty plastic Kirkland peanut-butter-filled pretzel containers; yards upon yards of used, half-inch-square fishing net collected by her husband. Red Slurpee straws used by Batty’s two children, washed by Mom, await an unknown destiny.
Batty participated in her first Trashique in 2013, making four outfits based on the theme of Salvador Dali. For two and a half years since, she has looked at discarded and second-hand items in a different way.
“I’ve been saving stuff since the last Trashique,” she says.
Trashique fact: 37 artists are participating in this year’s event, held in a swanky tent at the museum with 45 fully wearable garments between them worn by 44 models strutting along a runway.
2. Batty’s “partner” for this Trashique turned out to be Georges Seurat, the French painter who made pointillism a household word. Participating volunteer artists were paired up with famous names, then tasked to create outfits inspired by their art.
For Seurat, think “Sunday in the Park with George,” though the painting’s official title is “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” You’ve seen it: A woman on a riverbank holds a black parasol, the exaggerated bustle of her dress swooping like the rounded cover of a baby carriage. Next to her, obscured, stands a man with a top hat. They’re looking at the water. A monkey sits at her feet. A dog sniffs; a laborer sprawls on the grass; a sailboat dawdles. Sun, water, diffused light, soft color.
Though Seurat admittedly is not her favorite painter, Batty got to see his works in person at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris this summer. She was drawn to his use of color. Take a look, Ferris-Bueller-style close, at how he arranged his “points” of paint: the way the blues and yellows sit next to each other, making them vibrate.
There is something inherently soft about his painting, which attracts Batty. Yet there’s also geometry here. Seurat could have used a protractor to make that bustle.
Batty looked at her bottle caps. She took a small circle of colored paper (culled from junk mail) and stuck it inside a cap with adhesive. The frosted plastic diffused the vivid color, turning it into a soft, creamy pastel.
She will make a dress with these.
3. Batty, from a family of seamstresses, learned to sew when she was 10. Her grandmother’s creative bible, the “Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book,” with its line drawings of svelte homemakers in classic attire, sits on a shelf. When Batty was 12, she wanted to be a fashion designer.
She became a painter instead. A very good one.
But there is still a little-girl fashion designer within her. She is forever ensconced in the 1950s and 1960s, the comfortable midcentury modern aesthetic of her grandparents’ home, which was her favorite place in the world. That girl sometimes wants to strut her stuff.
Batty signed up to make four Trashique outfits, an outlandish workload. But fashion designers do whole lines, not just individual garments, and she wants to make a unified collection. Four it is.
“It’s so much work, and I love every minute of it,” she says.
Along with Seurat, the other unifying influence in her collection turns out to be water. Or lack thereof, in Batty’s mind. Parasols, designed for the sun, become umbrellas. Discarded shower curtains, lined with transparent paper, become fabric. Plastic bedspread packaging becomes glamorous 1960s-style see-through rain gear. A crown of tall, skinny water bottles becomes a hat.
The hat actually collects rain: a nod to our drought.
4. By its very definition, fashion is wasteful. You’re in; you’re out. Last year’s style goes in the garbage bin. Remember when people wore that?
Batty is particular about her tastes, no question. She saves Knudsen’s low-fat cottage-cheese containers for Trashique because the packaging has exactly the shade of red she likes.
But there’s a certain freedom working with found materials. She works with what she finds. The challenge of putting together an entire outfit from discarded stuff thrills her. It’s a different kind of creativity than painting from your head.
In a wasteful world: a small, incremental nod toward another way.
In Batty’s family room just 10 days before the big night, the bottle caps remain in their basket, tiny holes drilled in each one. They wait to be affixed to white fishing net on the pleated garment they will adorn. Out of trash, a functioning dress brimming with soft color. An unlikely birth.
Perhaps, she muses, the museum will be able to sell her dresses after the fashion show to raise even more money for an institution she loves.
And then: “I think the thing that would make me happiest if I saw someone wearing one of my dresses somewhere. I don’t even think I can describe how that would make me feel.”
It’s so much work, and I love every minute of it.
- Saturday, Nov. 7, Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. 1st St.
- 6 p.m. VIP dinner
- 8:30 p.m. Fashion show
- 10 p.m. After-party
- www.fresnoartmuseum.org, 559-441-4221
- $200 (dinner), $85 fashion show ($100 at door), $20 (after party)