Gil Batle, 53, has seen the inside of no fewer than five different American prisons.
For two decades of his adult life, the San Francisco-raised Batle served various intermittent sentences in California for fraud and forgery—arrested for manufacturing fake IDs, traveler’s checks, money orders, and more. Then, in prison, Batle’s sharp drawing and crafting skills were actually put to another use: They protected him from murderous gang violence, as he traded tattoos and drawings for his personal safety.
Now a free man, Batle—who currently resides in the Philippines, where his parents are from—is keen on telling the story of his life in prison through a wholly unconventional medium. Using a high-speed dental drill, Batle has painstakingly carved the details of his (and his former fellow inmates’) narrative on fragile, hollow ostrich eggs.
The highly personal stories, suspended within motifs of razor wire and birds, unravel across circular and rectangular panels on the eggshells. With each set of eggshells comes a description from the artist about its story; the only facts that have been obscured are the names of the men.
“Naked II,” a series with four stark panels suspended in an unforgiving lattice, is a story about Batle’s experience with the “humiliating” cavity checks that prison guards routinely perform on prisoners, he explains in the accompanying description. “It’s Your Fault,” another series, highlights the abuse that many prisoners’ fathers foisted on them when they were younger.
Batle’s full collection, titled “Hatched in Prison: The Art of Gil Batle,” is currently on view at Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York City.