Interview With Artist Justin Bateman "PebblePicassos" - The 124 Society

Interview With Artist Justin Bateman "PebblePicassos"

What was your first introduction to art?

I always drew as a child, all children are artists but we forget how to be artists as we grow older. Most people surrender whimsical pursuits in the face of the many more pressing matters that confront us as we age. Many artists have inspired me over the years, from Rene Magritte to Phillip Guston but none so much as a more immediate desire to commune directly with the forces that drive creation.

Did you formally study at an art school or university?

I studied art at College and went on to do an Art Foundation before studying sculpture at Central Saint Martin's in London, UK. It was quite a conceptual course which was fun, but I think for personal growth remaining in the traditional crafts has been more spiritually rewarding.

I was an art lecturer for many years which was very much an art form in itself. True artists don't really have a choice about what they do, they have to create. Art education is one of many opportunities to find out what's driving you and how important it is.

Have you created more permanent, traditional mosaics using other materials?

A few of my permanent pieces are exhibited locally in Chiang Mai, but these are rare. They do look very effective, and I order the stones for those pieces to avoid falling foul of quarrying laws. For the permanent work I order stones that have come from sustainable sources and use special bonding agents with eco friendly resin that does not amber with age. I will never make more than 10% of my work permanent, I'm not sure the world needs more clutter and pixels take up less space. I do however create permanent commissions for exclusive projects.

Where are you living now and was that decision made due to it’s geological features?

I live in a mountainous region of Northern Thailand currently. I chose the location for the people rather than the pebbles. I have a deep affinity with Thai culture and find them the gentlest, kindest and funniest of all the people I have met on my extensive travels. The beauty of my practice means I can work anywhere.... There are no easels, brushes, or tools of any kind, so I can truly work wherever I find my feet. I use a feather, stick or even chopsticks to move individual stones without disturbing their neighbours, but the chisels stayed in the UK. I have worked by rivers, on a volcano, in forests, on deserted beaches, islands, car parks and even on an active railway in Bangkok! I have travelled a lot and had a very large number of invitations to make work in locations around the world, but there is a diverse range of habitats in my current location. These days I'd rather spend my time working with the stones than traveling.

Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos

Describe the process you go through to take an idea and drive it to completion.

My work is inspired by direct experiences such as a piece of music, a poignant quote, an interaction or any other stimulus but I always sit with it for weeks or months before creating it - meditation helps confirm the subject. If a suitable location and stones present themselves at a similar time to the idea, I will make the work... I look for signs from the universe to suggest this thing wants to exist. My work is often site-specific. The mosaics utilise only found stones and are impermanent, recorded by the camera lens before being destroyed. Each piece explores the ephemeral nature of human existence, our search for meaning positioning us somewhere between chaos and order.

Abandoning traditional mosaic tiles (tessera), the work might be described as the sculptural equivalent to cave painting. The work is not entirely literal, it only appears that way. Life is riddled with stone metaphors, rocks easily define a new path and mosaics have told stories for centuries. You can just enjoy the picture or go much deeper into indexical semiotics if you prefer... Hopefully the work is accessible on a number of levels.

I only use a single mobile phone to document the final piece. I am a minimalist and travel very light, I deliberately limit the equipment required to document the work. Anyone can do what I do, regardless of socio-economic background or class.

Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos

What influenced you to become a minimalist?

I read 'A Course in Miracles' which instructed the reader to let go of physical objects that mattered to them. I began with simple objects and built up to significant objects that I felt reflected my identity somehow, the gramophone from my old Jazz club was particularly hard to relinquish.

I was preparing to travel, so this all made a lot of sense. I wanted to travel with only a carry on backpack limited to 7.5 kgs.... I discovered a huge sense of freedom having let the most significant objects go.

I have since discovered that attachment creeps back in. When you have just a few items, their importance seems to increase. It is practice I must remind myself of frequently, the invisible threads are winding their way around us whether it be physical objects, people or even idea's. To love what comes and love what goes is to master acceptance in a finite universe.

What influenced you to create impermanent artwork and how did you come to accept it? Your work is brilliant, most artists could not bear the idea of “destroying” their artwork.

At first I destroyed the work simply to leave the natural environment in it's correct order - disturbing local ecology and micro organisms isn't high on my to do list.... After all, we visit natural places to commune with nature. It was tough but I took great inspiration from the Tibetan sand mandalas; beautiful arrangements of sand that are blown away upon completion. The process reflects the entropy of life, the materials returning to their innate disarray. Of course only the works physical materiality is impermanent, it lives on.... But the pixels will one day fade too.

Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos

Have you ever left one of your creations as an "easter egg"?

No, I stick to a very specific process. It's a fun idea but I don't need to be a Banksy. His work is politically provocative, I've no need to hide my identity. The reason I destroy my work is to prevent it being considered as graffiti, that's not necessary to the nature of my practice. I have filmed a couple of pieces being destroyed by the elements, some of these films are available on my instagram.

What do you enjoy most about using pebbles?

Working with stones is enormously satisfying; physically, aesthetically and spiritually. I consider myself an Omnist, I believe all spiritual practices have something to teach us and that is very important to me, whether it takes place in churches, temples and mosques or in forests, by mountains and beaches. In some ways I think it's sad that we took God out of the fish, the stones, the river, the air and put him/her out of reach, dressed in elaborate uniforms in conceptual stories and books. I'm not sure I need a rigid narrative to cultivate my faith yet I deeply appreciate them all. If we are patient and persevere we can observe the essence of creation in all things, its emergence is available in awareness itself. The stones teach me about the world in ways that are hard to explain. They bring me into contact with people, places and events through a shared experience. Ultimately however, it is the practice of being in a flow state that draws me back. It is a form of meditation.

Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos

Are there other forms of art that you enjoy that are not publicized?

Yes. I wrote many children's poetry books when I was younger and also created illustrations, paintings and even performance art. It's all on my website but deeply buried at the back of the menu. I've been a maker all of my life, it's just these pieces that resonate on the broadest level.

More information on Justin Bateman

Below, are a few more land art pieces by Justin, but please go visit his website and Instagram account to see all of his beautiful art.


Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos
Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos
Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos
Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos
Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos
Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos
Justin Bateman Artist PebblePicassos