Stephan Balkenhol at Stephen Friedman Gallery
You’ll probably notice one of two things on entering this exhibition: the giant wooden ballerina, or the giant mountain landscape painting.
The huge landscape of a mountain range covers most of the long wall, requiring two substantial canvasses to hold the entire scene. Multi-canvas landscape works are not that hard to find but few of them manage to attain the acute levels of detail that Balkenhol does. Similarly, the next wall features a single canvas depiction of a forest scene with similarly impressive texture work and precision. Interestingly, the artist has undermined that effort and precision by gouging out a series of cruder trees with what appears to be a lino cutter. They hog the foreground and the effect is enjoyably discordant. It’s staggering to think that the photo-realism existent in these works is done in paint and is not, in fact, an enlarged photograph. More impressive is the idea that Balkenhol is quite willing to mark his own hard work in fairly destructive ways if it achieves what he is looking for.
Balkenhol’s woodwork figures are truly interesting things. Hand carved from a single block of wood, they are rough and the texture of the poplar and wawa really shows through. The lack of smooth finish, sanding, and varnish is refreshing and it actually heightens the overall affect, especially on the smaller models. The natural grooves and ridges of the wood add to the obvious technical skill employed in carving the figures. The detail present in his paintings also appears in his sculptures: the features, hair and clothing folds are all meticulously modelled. The wood itself adds to the intricacy with its rough grain; the result is almost like a series of small 3D matte paintings on tall pedestals.
Stephan Balkenhol’s is a nice exhibition and there’s a lot of skill on display. It’s worth looking into, especially if you like woodwork and are interested in seeing a slightly different take on it.
Stephan Balkenhol is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 5th October 2013, for further information visit here.