Raiders of the Lost Art: Artist celebrates the life of late partner, artist David Batz

As Cleveland Heights-based artist Robert Jursinski prepared to open the storage unit he hadn’t entered in almost three decades, a tsunami of emotions engulfed him.

After his life partner and fellow artist David Batz suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 at age 49, the grief-stricken Jursinski abandoned his own career and tucked Batz’ ceramics, sculptures, and others works away for safekeeping.

But as the 30th anniversary of Batz’ death approached, Jursinski was ready to revisit Batz’s work and the treasured seasons of the life they shared.

David BatzDavid Batz“When I unlocked the door, I was flooded with memories,” Jursinski recalls. “At first, it was painful to deal with the past because I have these wonderful mental images of being there when David created these pieces. I soon realized I’d kept his art boxed up for too long.”

Jursinski soon realized Batz’ creations should be celebrated. The exhibit “Raiders of the Lost Art” will open this weekend—on Saturday, June 22 at Context Gallery and Studios in 78th Street Studios, and on Sunday, June 23 at Patti DiBenedetto Corna Gallery at the Ohio Design Centre in Beachwood.

Jursinski says he knows Batz would want his work to be displayed and celebrated.

“Like his personality, David’s work is so happy and joyous—it just has to be out there,” Jursinski explains. “When people see it again after all these years, it will be a magical experience.”

Along with Batz’s ceramic and porcelain creations, the exhibits will feature Jursinski’s lively pulp paintings that are influenced by the works of famous French visual artist Henri Matisse, English printmaker David Hockney, and 17th Century Dutch still-life artist Jan van Huysam.

A contemporary blast from the past

Cleveland State University theater studies professor emeritus Joe Garry is co-curating both exhibitions and has avidly collected Batz’s and Jursinski’s works for 50 years.

“Although the pieces were created more than 30 years ago, nothing seems out-of-date,” he says. “You don’t look at them and say, ‘this is kitsch’ or ‘this is something out of the ’60s or ’70s—not at all. All of the art has a contemporary immediacy about it. The works speak to us as powerfully today as when David and Robert created them.”

As a newly hired as a ceramics professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Batz met Jursinski in 1970 when he moved to Cleveland. A decade later, as owners of Fiori Gallery in Little Italy, the pair became staunch arts advocates, showcasing their own works, along with works by emerging and established local and international artists—including Batz’s former instructor, renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

In 2021, a collaborative work by Batz and Jursinski was sold at auction at Sotheby’s Paris.

David Batz, Odyssey Series, ceramicDavid Batz, Odyssey Series, ceramicBatz’ storied career includes vibrant ceramics and sculpture, hand-made paper, prints, graphics. Among Batz’ unique works are eclectic polychrome totems, which Garry describes as “combining ancient and modern imagery that are hypnotic in nature and [transcend] time and space.”

Jursinski’s own creations, which he is in the process of returning to, includes “pulp painting”—a technique that involves applying pigmented pulp to a paper substrate he creates, then pressing it. The process blends modern European paper-making methods with ancient Japanese practices.

“Robert has a unique style that’s very identifiable,” says Garry. “It isn’t dated or lost in time. It speaks as great art always does to us whenever we have the option of seeing it.”

Context Gallery owner Christopher Richards agrees, noting that Jursinski’s style fits the gallery’s spotlight on exhibitions curated to help visitors understand and appreciate abstract art.

“Several of Robert’s paintings in the show—including one of a house—are pure abstraction,” Richards explain. “David’s work often features geometric shapes, and the way he combined recognizable imagery and symbolism was done in a very abstract way that pushes the boundaries of what people typically think of as abstraction.

“One of the missions of my gallery is to showcase late-career artists,” Richards adds. “I love introducing younger generations to their artwork.”

Raiders of the Lost Art will take place at Context Gallery at 78th Street Studios, 1305 West 80th St., Cleveland, on Saturday, June 22 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; on Friday, June 28, Friday, July 5 and Friday, July 12 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and on Friday, July 19 from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on; and by appointment.

The exhibit will be on view at Patti DiBenedetto Corna Gallery at the Ohio Design Centre, 23533 Mercantile Road, Beachwood, on Sunday, June 23 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Linda Feagler
Linda Feagler

About the Author: Linda Feagler

Northeast Ohio native Linda Feagler never tires of indulging her passion for arts and culture Her favorite pastimes include attending Broadway musicals at Playhouse Square, visiting one-of-a-kind bookshops that include Loganberry Books in Cleveland Heights and The Learned Owl in Hudson, and spending the day with Impressionists at The Cleveland Museum of Art.