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Former Prisoner Depicts Life Behind Bars With Astonishing Eggshell Carvings

Artist Gil Batle draws upon his personal experience in jail to tell the stories of those still locked away.

Jargon via Gil Batle / Ricco/Maresca press release

Artist Gil Batle had spent more than two decades of his 53 years shuffling through California’s penal system, including prison time spent in San Quentin, Jamestown, and Chuckawalla Valley for a variety of nonviolent offenses. There, his natural artistic ability was put to use drawing and tattooing—skills that served Batle well by impressing his fellow inmates. Now free, Batle has been documenting his experience behind bars in a series of pieces done in a medium as delicate and fragile as prison life can be hard and unyielding: eggshells.


It’s Your Fault II via Gil Batle / Ricco/Maresca press release

Batle, who now reportedly lives in the Philippines, and his work are the focus of Hatched in Prison, a new exhibition opening November 5 at New York City’s Ricco/Maresca gallery. Per a press release for the show:

“Jamestown” via gil batle / ricco/maresca press release

Almost one out of every hundred Americans is now in prison, the largest percentage of any developed country in the world. The other 99 percent of us have little inkling of the ferocity of life inside. Articles about prison abuse appear weekly in the press, but are mere snapshots of the hard truth chronicled in Gil Batle’s orb-like relief carvings; each with an architecture of pictorial panels supported and separated by a fine lattice of chain-link fencing, razor-wire, or carved hand-cuffs. The violent men he knew, the sad mistakes that sometimes led to the incarceration of regular guys, the terrifying events he witnessed, and the bonds formed under the worst conditions, all appear with precise detail on pristine eggshells, nature’s most perfect creation and manifestation of life and birth.

Batle’s pieces, carved into hollowed-out ostrich shells over six inches tall, look not unlike sections of Trajan’s famous column. Unlike that triumphal piece, however, Batle’s art depicts the everyday realities of prison life in pieces with titles such as Jargon and Sanctuary.

Reception: Fresh Fish via Gil Batle / Ricco/Maresca press release

The pieces are based on Batle’s experiences in prison and the stories he heard from his fellow inmates. The only things changed in his carvings are the names of those he served time with, explains the press release, “to protect the guilty.”

Gang Chart II via Gil Batle / Ricco/Maresca press release

Hatched in Prison runs from November 5 through January 9, 2016, at New York City’s Ricco/Maresca gallery.

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