Exhibitions: Message in a bottle: Christopher Battye observes his subject matter through the bottom of a glass. Robin Dutt meets the one that got away

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Christopher Battye looks like a renegade member of Showaddywaddy. Here he is, still faithful to the Fifties in electric blue Edwardian drape jacket, rock 'n' roll motif toggle and a duck's arse hairstyle. But he is not a member of a music band, nor any other group.

Battye is a painter of strident originality and extraordinary vision. While contemporaries such as Duggie Fields, Andrew Logan and Kevin Whitney have been lumped into convenient painting schools, the 52- year-old Lancastrian, with the same soft, lilting accent he had when he first came to London in the Sixties, is surely the one that got away. It may be something to do with his bull-headedness: groups and schools repel his extrovert and mischievous nature.

His work celebrates degradation, angst, tears and trauma and we soon realise that he has actually lived and limped through such drinking scenes and street campaigns as he depicts. Above all, he exudes a single-minded desire to retain a state of independence. Even his sporting of the drape jacket and haircut is a reaction to parental non-acceptance of a teen cult, all of 35 years ago. Battye forgets none too easily.

His paintings and drawings - usually highly coloured but for the current exhibition mainly monochrome - show an ability to capture movement, confusion and even frenzy, in busy little freeze frames. 'I chose mainly monochrome because one can read it more easily,' he says. 'You can get too emotionally involved in colour. Black and white, although occasionally sumptuous, is clearer.'

His style has often been compared to William Roberts and other vorticists, but he also has the ability to reduce (or perhaps elevate) everyday life to cartoon status. His subjects are solidly based on real-life characters - drinking partners, bar keepers and night-time denizens.

Battye flings his men and women into vibrant, violent scenes. His recent private view was exactly as one of his works - a ragtag of curious characters thrown together, with expletives and drinks flowing freely. Energy is what attracts Battye most. Some of his subjects are painted with an aura emanating from them. His images capturing people talking show a keen power of observation, while his drinking and fighting scenes look too real to be fiction.

In the main, he is consistent and eloquent - though you can tell a bad Battye at 50 paces. He has exhibited widely, from established galleries to drinking dens, but one gets the distinct impression he prefers the latter. Collectors of his work have included the artists Ivor Abrahams and Barry Flannagan, comedian Robbie Coltrane and actor Peter Bowles, who no doubt all appreciate Battye's addictive cocktail of energy and confidence.

How can an artist be inspired by the same scene again and again? A few whiskies in one bar cause the same effects as a few rums in another. Battye disagrees. 'My working life is extreme. I don't leave the studio for four days of the week. When I do it is to meet friends at these drinking places, but how they relate to each other is always different. When I've emptied myself in the studio I need to go out and fill up again.'

52 Dean St, London W1 (071- 437 4160), Mon-Fri to 3 Jun

(Photograph omitted)

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