"There is a form of objectivity in my work, but it is more general? It's a little as though you found a private photo in the street? you don?t know the person or persons in the picture and yet at the same time, it?s something very personal. My sculptures can represent a definite person, or whoever, a 'Mr. Everyman'."
Stephan Balkenhol has updated the centuries-old tradition of figurative sculpture by selecting common men and women as subject matter, and rendering them in a modern, memorable, and original form. Balkenhol first began creating these roughly hewn wood figures in the mid-1980s. He carves each figure from a single block of wood and presents them in a relatively realistic manner with recognizable facial features, postures, and clothing. The figures are broadly painted with watery, acrylic paint to render shirts, dresses, pants and hair.
Balkenhol, however, is not making portraits of specific people and he is not attempting to tell a story. The individual figures do not interact or display any pronounced expression; they are like a parody of military figures who stand guard at important security or ceremonial events?erect, disciplined, and tight-lipped.
The long tradition of sculpting human figures, usually in marble, stone, clay and bronze, was interrupted in the twentieth century by the dominance of abstract and minimal expressions. But Balkenhol?s artistic interests were in the study of Greek kouroi, Roman portrait busts, and the caryatids of the Erectheum in Athens.
Balkenhol allows the natural characteristics of wood to remain a strong visual element, and he employs whimsy, humor, and deft alterations of scale as tools in dismantling and reconsidering traditional figurative sculpture. His use of disproportionate size also gives the figures a pronounced physical presence: ?Sculpture that is not life-size seems to activate the space in which it is placed more. Also, it engages your imaginative powers much more. Life-size sculptures seem somehow less important.?
Stephan Balkenhol was born in Fritzlar, West Germany, in 1957, and grew up in Kassel and Hamburg, West Germany. He studied art at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunst, Hamburg (1976-1882), and the Karl-Schmidt-Rottluff Forderungsstiftung (1983); and is currently a professor at the Academy for Fine Arts, Karlsruhe, Germany. He lives and works in Karlsruhe, and Meisenthal, France. Major exhibitions of Balkenhol?s work have been presented at the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland; New National Gallery, Berlin; Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada; and Sprengel-Museum, Hanover, Germany.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator
Works in the Exhibition:
All works lent courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
BIG MAN, 2003
Poplar wood, painted
94 1/2 x 37 3/8 x 15 3/4 inches
BIG WOMAN, 2003
Poplar wood, painted
90 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
UNTITLED (THREE LARGE MEN), 1997
Poplar wood, acrylic dispersion
108 x 39 x 156 inches
TALL MAN WITH WHITE SHIRT AND BLACK PANTS, 1990
Poplar wood and paint
99 1/2 x 73 x 38 inches