Artist Brian Batt Talks ‘Gossip Girl’

If you haven’t yet heard of artist Brian Batt, you’ll be getting a glimpse soon, especially if you tune into Gossip Girl. We know that not everyone’s smitten for Upper East Side scheming, but this impressive painter makes a cameo in tonight’s episode, “Portrait of a Lady Alexander.” Indeed, the 33-year-old acting neophyte even delivers some lines, in the presence of Chuck and Blair, no less. Guilty pleasure, meet aesthetic skill.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Batt made his way to Manhattan roughly five years ago. At the time, he was working for a Long Island-based band merchandising company, designing t-shirts and other fan-focused products. But, much as he loved it, in 2008 Batt threw in towel, determined to work for himself and bent on painting fulltime.

And now, that’s just what he does. Day in and day out, he collides with the canvas in his Lower East Side two-bedroom walk-up, though soon he’ll be relocating to Dumbo. We can appreciate his need for more space. With two pit bulls, Lily and Zoe, bounding about (not to mention fixating on our feet) and countless large-scale works scattered throughout the apartment, perched precariously against walls and otherwise making it a little difficult to walk without worry, he’s due for—and deserving of—a real estate upgrade.

Batt’s style has certainly evolved over the years, and currently it’s all about gridding and dots. Some depictions we encountered during our visit were of Russell Simmons, Frida Kahlo, and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Just blocks and dots of color making for a magnificent and entirely fresh perspective. No Lichtenstein or Seurat to be seen here.

Our personal favorite Batt original would have to be Venus, which features a gorgeous girl (who looks a lot like Lana Del Rey). She sports a letterman jacket and oversized sunglasses, her long locks billowing in the wind before a body of water. The closer you stand, the more out of focus it is. But back up a bit and the beauty comes together, well, beautifully. We really dig the illusion, not to mention the evident meticulousness. And we aren’t alone. Batt counts among his collectors the likes of Reese Witherspoon and John Krasinski, amid myriad more. Though he can command up to $25,000 per piece, prints are available on his site, signed and embossed, for only $90.

Jolly and totally down to talk shop, Batt opened up to us about his craft, breaking into television (if only once…so far), and his relationship with L.A. Spoiler alert: New York City wins.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Have you always been into art, even as a kid?
I was always drawing. And, I went to college for illustration at Hartford Art School in Connecticut. Also, my dad was an artist, too.

That’s awesome. Who is your favorite artist, apart from pops of course?
My primary influence is Chuck Close. Chuck Close is the man.

I can see that, for sure. You have a couple reminiscent, albeit distinct, aesthetics. What would you call them?
Pixilated paintings and dot style[, respectively]. [The former] is influenced by the digital era. The reference is like a bitmap. [The latter is] like look[ing] at a newspaper [if] you zoom way in; it’s all dots. It’s influenced by print.

What does this endeavor mean to you?
I’m just so motivated to be painting every day, as much as possible. Definitely more motivated now than ever before. I spend a lot of time; I’m working at least twelve hours a day, seven days a week. There’s so much I want to do, so much I’m set up to do right now. Commissions and pieces I’m compelled to do. I’m the only one here to do it, too. I don’t have assistants or anything, so I just have to be as productive as I can. I work really hard.

It shows. How do you create these pieces? Like, where do you source the initial images?
This [Russell Simmons image] is taken from a photo on the internet, which is something I’m trying to avoid. I want them to be original. Like, with Gossip Girl, I couldn’t show this because I didn’t take this photo, you know?

It’s tricky. So, how did you initially get involved with Gossip Girl?
The head writer bought two of my paintings at a show I had in L.A. They wanted [to feature] a New York artist and were trying to write me into the script. They wanted me to play myself for authenticity. When they first told me, I really [didn’t] expect it to happen. [After some back and forth,] they invite[d] me to do a cameo on the show.

Were you stoked?
I was very interested.

Then what?
They explained what the scene was going to be; Chuck and Blair come to my studio to talk about a painting. They wanted me to read in front of the camera. That was the final test. I was super nervous, because I’d never done that sort of thing. They just wanted me to be myself.

Did Gossip Girl film here?
They wanted to. Because of the walk-up, it was an issue. So, they came, picked up, like, 18 of my paintings, and recreated my studio out on Long Island. It was cool to see it all recreated.

I bet. So, what was the end result?
It was amazing. The experience was great. They made me feel really comfortable and were really enthusiastic about the work. It was so surreal. It should be great exposure.

Beyond the head writer of Gossip Girl, who else invests in your work?
Probably the most famous person who’s bought work from me is Reese Witherspoon. I did one for John Krasinski a couple years ago, too. It was commissioned by a friend of his. He loves JFK…

Are you bent on depicting famous faces or are you also into lesser-known subjects?
It’s both. I don’t feel as comfortable submitting pieces where I didn’t take the photograph.

And that largely ties back to portraying folks you know or have easier access to than the celebrity (or deceased) set. Tell me about your Frida Kahlo painting.
I think it’s important [to represent] the power of women. There’s not as many female artists. There’s not as much of a presence of female artists. That’s what inspired me. I like subjects who are game changers, who overcome adversity, who stand up for something. To me, Frida totally represents that.

Absolutely.
It’s also about doing more obscure icons. People I think are amazing but don’t necessarily get the recognition of, like, Bob Marley, who’s on posters everywhere. [For example,] this is Karen O. from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I love Karen O.

Does anyone ever sit for a portrait?
Used to. But now I take a photograph because I don’t want to make someone wait so long.

Speaking of waiting, what’s your waiting list like?
A year. Some are priority. Some people are anxious to get something; others are, like, Whenever. I’m happy to have a bunch of commissions lined up.

It must be awesome to be an artist who isn’t starving.
It’s the best. I’m starting to pick up some momentum now.

Yes, you may even make it to Art Basel this year. Tell me more about the piece you anticipate showcasing there?
I’ve probably put in 1,000 hours so far. It’s tedious. I really hope they take it.

For sure. So, does New York inform your art? This area?
It’s always inspiring to walk around the neighborhood. I’m lucky I have dogs. Gets me out of the apartment.

But soon you’ll be abandoning the Lower East Side for Dumbo. Are you ready to say goodbye to Manhattan?
I’m freaking out. I’m majorly freaking out.

I would be, too. Lastly, your manager’s based in L.A. Can you describe your relationship with the West Coast?
There’s so many opportunities for artists out there now. It’s really refreshing to have New York artists [going] to L.A. The general population in Los Angeles is all about it. There’s so much to take advantage of. It’s really positive and beneficial to be involved in some way. It’s also nice to recharge a little bit, too. I love going back and forth, absorbing what both places have to offer. I don’t think I could live there full-time, though. New York is just so amazing.

Virgin’s New Clubhouse Makes It (Almost) OK to Get to JFK Three Hours Early

Whoever said that hell is other people had clearly never been in an airport. It’s airports that are the real hell, whether they’re filled with other people or not (and they always are, too, crammed with a teeming crush of unwashed masses). Adding insult to injury, we have to spend seemingly ever-expanding amounts of time in these places, required to arrive an hour, then two, and now three before our international flights. And that’s before the invariable delay. No quantity of duty free Champagne and cigarettes will ever make that okay.

We can, however, take both some solace and reasonable refuge in airlines’ top-class lounges, which these days seem to be constantly increasing in quality and quantity.

One of the latest landings in this field is Virgin’s new Upper Class Clubhouse at New York’s JFK, where a fleet of one-of-a-kind amenities make up for the myriad indignities perpetrated against us by rubber-gloved TSA personnel and other huddled airport masses yearning to breathe free. Here, the top five reasons the Clubhouse makes an early airport arrival advisable.

Designer Drinks on the House: Cocktails make everything better, whether you’re a nervous flier, someone who needs to give their Ambien a little extra help or just a social alcoholic. The bar at the Clubhouse does dozens of specialty drinks, many designed just for the JFK location, not least of all the Virgin Redhead—a potable of muddled raspberries, cassis, framboise, fresh lemon juice and Bombay Sapphire Gin topped with prosecco.

Haute Pub Grub: Maybe you missed The Breslin during your time in town or the wait at the Spotted Pig was too long for you to grab some gastropub fare to go. Fear not. Virgin’s spun out some novel takes on elevated Anglo classics that might even make April Bloomfield take notice. (The company’s corporate chef, Mark Murphy, hails from Michelin-starred Ockendon Manor.) The Brooklyn Steak and Ale Pie has proven most popular so far. Traditionally English with a New York twist, it’s made with Brooklyn Ale, baked in an enamel pie dish and, in a nod to the old English nursery rhyme, pierced with a ceramic blackbird that stares up at you from the flakey crust. 

Swoon-Worthy Spa Services: We appreciate that air on planes is pressurized for our breathing pleasure, of course, but does it really have to be so dry? Even Virgin’s new Upper Class cabins haven’t managed to correct this problem, but the therapies created just for the JFK Clubhouse by Virgin and beauty brand Dr. Hauschka go a long way towards protecting your epidermis before you board. The perhaps-too-tweely-named “Radiant You” facial cleans, hydrates and and moisturizes in easy-to-manage express (15 minutes) or long (half hour) increments. You can book a treatment ahead of time, or just show up looking a mess and someone’s bound to take pity on you.

Blow Outs and Trim Ups: Virgin’s brought beloved brand Bumble and bumble to JFK as the only such salon in any Stateside lounge. Treatments here—the most popular combo includes a shampoo, hair treatment application and scalp massage—keep manes looking magnificent through even the most harrowing of transatlantic flights. (Otherwise, that dry plane air sucks the moisture out of your hair just as quickly as it does your skin.) 

Conversation Nooks and Canoodling Corners: The New York-based firm Slade Architecture designed the 10,000-square-foot Clubhouse not just to be a lounge but to encourage lounging everywhere you look. There’s a sunken conversation pit-style seating in one area, more business-friendly booths in others and, perhaps best of all, a sofa in the so-called “Entertainment Zone” that looks like it’s made entirely of Virgin-red leather softballs. To sit (or lie down) here is to receive the DIY back massage of your life. But don’t get too comfortable, or you just might miss your flight. And while Upper Class passengers are entitled to free Virgin-organized ground transportation to the airport, they don’t get it back home just because they dozed off during boarding.

Terminal Love at JFK’s New Jetblue Terminal 5

There’re two Terminal 5’s in New York: one’s the oversized, futuristic-prison-looking music venue so far on the west side, it’s almost in the Hudson River. The other’s the new Jetblue Terminal at JFK. On name alone, we had reason to be skeptical; that being said, ask anyone who lives here — NYC travelers are mostly forsaken by the airport gods, as both JFK and LaGuardia are a pain in the ass to get to. (Nobody wants to fly out of Newark, supposedly the “nicest” of the three airports.) Such facilities are mostly drab, extraordinarily boring places. As entries to one of the greatest cities on the planet, they’re underwhelming, depressing travel hubs. The taxi lines are long, the weather getting off of the plane is traditionally shitty, the scenery isn’t exactly nice. That being said, expectations for Terminal 5 could be set reasonably low. Jetsetters were promised top-shelf dining, shopping, and a generally perfect, 180-degree turn from not just the typical New York airport experience, but the airport experience at large. I flew through Terminal 5 on my most recent holiday home, and can safely say it lives up to the hype. Terminal 5 was awesome.

Checking In: it was one of the busiest flying days of the year (the day before Thanksgiving), and I didn’t wait more than five minutes to get my bags checked — the long, long line of check-in counters running over half of the front of the terminal were mostly line-free. Plenty of computer stations for travelers to check themselves in, if they didn’t need to check any bags, though. The line for security was slightly longer, but moving relatively fast; there were about five lines, all of them being navigated helpfully by service agents and TSA staff (yes, TSA staff, being helpful). The music playing throughout the terminal was pretty pleasant: I remember hearing both Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly.” I mean, the place might actually have a DJ. It’s entirely possible.

Terminal Basics: My phone picked up the free T5 wifi almost instantly, without hassle. When I needed to reorganize my bag post-security line, the center of the terminal had a large, Spanish-style grandstand (replete with kind of unnecessary, but nonetheless neat modern-design-esque cushions to sit on). Plenty of people were camped out there, hanging around, checking email. The layout of the terminal makes it pretty simple to navigate, as the restaurants and shops sit around the large entryway, with the two wings of gates jutting out from said main pavilion; essentially: look, and you’ll find it.

Shops: The Borders bookstore was well stocked, well attended. The Muji store managed to hold far less interest from other travelers, but was the nicest of the bunch — like the products themselves, minimal, understated, effective. Lacoste staff was slightly aloof, and the selection was slightly smaller that what the space could hold, but still: You need a polo, there they are. It was more than kind of strange to see a Ron Jon Surf Shop in a New York City airport, but if you’re heading to a warmer climate and are in desperate need of a pair of boardshorts or sunglasses, the selection there was best-of-the-best, well stocked, and attended to by a totally competent staff. Full list of shops here,

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Restaurant Scene: The reason you want to get to Terminal 5 as early as you can: a massive resto selection, all of which are reasonably priced, all of which looked really, really good. Couples chowing on pizzas from Italian enoteca Aeronova looked satisfied, and the pizzas looked solid. Didn’t get to catch anything from 5ivesteak, the steakhouse with a borderline-disco theme, but it had a decent-sized crowd hanging out inside, as did underground railway-themed French bistro La Vie. I checked out the food court, which was serving everything from burgers to an organic salad bar to pork buns … everything gets ordered via touchscreen, is given to you by the chefs preparing it, and is paid for at a bank of registers outside of the court.

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Food: I decided on Deep Blue — the blue-hued, ultramodern design-oriented sushi/Japanese option at Terminal 5 — and saddled up to the bar. Service was a little harried, but they eventually got to me. The menu was expansive, and I started out with a drink order, which they screwed up (to my benefit): two were ordered, two were delivered, they apologized for “ordering a second drink,” promised to comp it, and placed it right next to the first one. Awesome! I started with a Soft Shell Crab roll — the portion was a little small, the flavors, nothing out of the ordinary. For sushi at an airport, it was competent. The next thing I ordered was a dare of sorts, as it’s my favorite dish, with one of my favorite ingredients: an uni (sea urchin) risotto. This is exactly the kind of thing one shouldn’t order on an excursion like this — risotto, a notoriously hard dish to get right, at a Japanese restaurant, at an airport — with a complex flavor that takes a good chef to get right. I went with it anyway, and (this might be the greatest testament to Terminal 5) it wasn’t just good. It was solid. It was cooked to perfection; the rice was soft, chewy, al dente. The uni flavor was faint, which, for a hot dish, it should’ve been, and there was just enough truffle oil to not overwhelm the dish (but to give me, the drunk traveler, the happily false idea that I was eating a far better dish than I had ordered). The entire experience was shockingly solid, and when I asked for the check, they threw it down almost immediately.

Overall: The problem with Terminal 5 is that you have to travel through it to get to it; it’d be a great escape for city locals looking to get out of Manhattan for few hours, grab a decent bite, take in some aeronautic scenery, watch some planes take off. That being said, it’s by far and away the best airline terminal I’ve ever had the chance to travel through in regards to design, quality of shops/food, and service. And it ultimately puts JetBlue head and shoulders above other airlines, at least for New Yorkers. A must-fly.