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Agelio Batle

Graphite Objects

It's not the pencil that draws, it is your hand.

Whether drawing lines or inscribing words, the act of making marks lures ideas into the physical world. Hands perceive and reveal things that our eyes and conscious minds may never know. We discover things about ourselves and our thoughts by engaging the hand in a mark-making process.

In 1998, Sculptor Agelio Batle developed a process to create sculptures in solid graphite. Initially, he created his own hand (Drawing Hand No. 1), and then botanical and other natural forms followed.

The objects before you is a further exploration by Batle in this new media. Unlike his initial body of work of molded natural forms, these objects express the ongoing dialogue between form and content. The works in this series, whether formal or personal, show a stronger connection to the artist and are more reflective of his experimental attitude towards art. Each sculpture is cast using Batle's unique molding and carving process. Carbonaceous graphite (mineral remains of prehistoric plant life) is fused with smudge-resistant compounds, then cures into the object before you.

They have been formulated to resist smudging onto your hands. The multiple surfaces of each graphite sculpture can write.

San Francisco artist Agelio Batle's Drawing Hand is both a poetic metaphor and a functioning drawing tool; all of its surfaces can write. Committed to making art from materials that are part of daily experience, the artist originated this work by casting his own hand (Drawing Hand No.1) in pencil lead, graphite, each day for the calendar year 1999. Wishing to share the insights gleaned from that sculptural process with a wider public, he similarly cast a child's hand (Drawing Hand No.2) to create the object before you.
Drawing Hand suggests that our own hands have the innate capacity to be creative instruments. An object full of innocence, desire, pleasure and human potential, it invites you to access your imagination and discover its infinite possibilities.
San Francisco sculptor and artist Agelio Batle and his wife, Delia, wanted to raise their two young sons and also run his art business from home, so they began to look for a true live-work space - not just a developer's make-believe live-work loft that's too small for a substantial studio, much less a family.

It took months, but they found it on Potrero Hill, on the border between two distinct neighborhoods. To the south are small, peaked Victorians built for working-class families, and to the north are warehouses and factory buildings where those families presumably had jobs. "It was perfect. Not too residential and not too factory-like," Agelio Batle said.

In fact, the two-story building, which had started out as a Victorian, was a bit of a mess. It had been altered over time; marring its exterior were stucco and cheap plywood siding, an ugly front door, misaligned windows of varied shapes and sizes, and security grills.

But Agelio Batle fell in love with the downstairs. Since buildings zoned for commercial use can spread over an entire lot, it had been expanded into a 2,500-square-foot work space for offices for a dot-com company that failed.

Upstairs, there was only 900 square feet of living space, chopped into several small rooms. It was perhaps too small for four people, but after trying it out for several months while they worked on several - ultimately unaffordable - remodeling schemes with architect Ned White (McCoppin Studios, San Francisco), they concluded that extra rooms were not necessarily the answer.

"They thought they could make their house interesting in other ways, and we decided to work with different floor plans instead of trying to get more square footage," White said.

As their plans took shape, the owners and architects agreed that a spine wall in the downstairs could be eliminated to make the lower floor an open-plan work space for the Batles and their staff of eight, with distinct corners set up from back to front for sculpture, office work and exhibition space.

Upstairs, they did the same with the living rooms and kitchen, making them into an open, flexible space. The original master bedroom, which opened to the back roof deck and garden, remains. By altering and expanding the bathroom into the back, they were able to rearrange the floor space to dovetail in a bigger bedroom for their sons.

Agelio Batle sculpts, from small chunks of graphite, delicate art objects that are sold in well-known museum stores, but when it came to new cladding for his house, he chose tough, industrial-strength, corrugated Galvalume, a sheet steel material galvanized and coated with aluminum, because it reflects the industrial character of the area.

To soften it, White and his partner, architect and contractor Derek Paprocki, added square metal windows with Douglas-fir frames on the interior and created a friendly, inset entry porch clad in cedar. Wooden French doors, through which passers-by can see the working studio, also add warmth. Custom Cor-Ten steel planters that the Batles loaded with showy, drought-tolerant succulents flank the entry.

The hybrid aesthetic - industrial meets domestic - is exactly what the Batles wanted. While the facade materials are tough enough that they won't need to be painted or maintained annually for decades (an inadvertent green dividend), the ways in which the architects have used them become decorative. The four square windows that now break up the front form a restful geometric pattern instead of the cacophony of shapes that was there. And, by turning the ribbed corrugated sheets vertically just above the door heights, the architects have added a subtle textural pattern.

"We didn't start out wanting to be green," Agelio Batle said, but, by economizing, they discovered they were being green in unexpected ways. For instance, kitchen storage cabinets that he found in garbage bins and thrift stores and then assembled and painted red, just as sculptor Louise Nevelson might have done, are not just a sculptural accent - they were saved from going into the landfill.

Cork floors for sound absorption in the kitchen and living spaces are a wonderful renewable resource. Passive solar heating from the well-placed windows and new energy-saving skylights both upstairs and downstairs simply made sense. The Batles chose water-based paints and fiberglass wall insulation that are formaldehyde-free. The individual Flor carpet tiles used in the bedrooms can be lifted, cleaned and reused. That's impossible, or at least very difficult, to do when wall-to-wall carpets get stained; they usually head straight to the landfill.

"The Batles' No. 1 green idea was their decision to reuse their building and just add a little room upstairs," Paprocki said.

Downstairs, before dismantling walls, Paprocki carefully noted which beams and posts were reusable and saved them. The mismatched concrete floors were simply unified by a thin coating of red Ardex self-leveling concrete. By resisting the temptation to repour that concrete slab just for aesthetics, the Batles saved money as well as a bit of the planet.

"What we loved about the building," Batle said, "was the coziness upstairs." Without the extra square footage they might have acquired had cost been no object, they still have that. But now, with the added advantage of an internal stairway to the downstairs - which becomes a large open space for the children to do homework and play in during the hours when the studio is shut - they have the ultimate in green design: a true family live-work space.