Battiss, Walter (Whall)
- Esmé Berman
(b Somerset East, Cape Province, Jan 6, 1906; d Port Shepstone, nr Durban, Aug 20, 1982).
South African painter and printmaker. He trained as an art teacher in Johannesburg (1929–32), and his long career culminated in his appointment to the Chair of Fine Arts at the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria (1964–71). In the 1930s he was among the first to recognize the aesthetic value of southern African rock art, proclaiming his empathy in several books; he replaced his own former realist style with motifs derived from ancient petroglyphs and paintings, as in Quagga Race (610×760 mm, 1948; priv. col., see Berman).
The influence of European modernists from 1938 confirmed Battiss’s commitment to forms of primitive art but also led him closer to abstraction and gave rise to the bright palette that became his hallmark. Subsequent travels broadened his acquaintance with early cultures. Increasingly convinced that ‘calligraphic symbols are a universal language’, he began to incorporate rhythmical calligraphic figurations into compositions such as ...