Stephan Balkenhol at the Stephen Friedman Gallery

-This exhibition is now closed-

An edited version of this review was originally published in Time Out London Magazine

Installation view of 'Ballerina', 'Wood' and 'Lake', 2013, © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photo: Stephen White.

Installation view of ‘Ballerina’, ‘Wood’ and ‘Lake’, 2013, © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photo: Stephen White.

The style of Stephan Balkenhol’s new soft-wood sculptures will be familiar to the German artist’s followers. As captivating as any of his previous works, Balkenhol’s latest sculpted characters exemplify his recurring theme of finding unexpected grandeur in familiar figures. From the oversized Ballerina, with her unapologetically fleshy, ordinary body, to the tiny Woman in Red Dress, Balkenhol’s characters gaze past the viewer with expressions of ambivalence or mild amusement, totally self-assured in their comfortable poses.They are basically cooler than us mere mortals, and they know it.

Stephan Balkenhol, Lake 2013

Stephan Balkenhol, Lake 2013

New to Balkenhol’s oeuvre are the landscapes in this show. Ink-jet photo prints on plywood, they are ostensibly nature scenes, but with a violent twist. In Wood, a hill scene has been gouged with deep, vertical cuts, exposing the plywood underneath. Similarly, in Lake, the realism of a valley scene is betrayed by expanses of thick, shiny paint in place of lake water, reflecting the texture of the artwork’s plywood base.

Balkenhol’s art intriguingly straddles the line between realism and overt artifice.  His sculpted characters, with their realistic poses and delicate expressions, are instantly convincing, yet Balkenhol has intentionally left their wooden edges rough and unpolished. His landscapes, based on dark, foreboding photographs, seem immediately realistic, but Balkenhol’s bold surface interventions draw attention to the images’ artificiality. This contradiction is what makes Balkenhol’s work so interesting; the viewer’s eye constantly shifts between seeing his pieces as elements of a mysterious, imaginary narrative, and appreciating his work as the inventive manipulation of physical materials.

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