‘Jennifer Balkan: Peep Holes’
In Balkan's figurative portraits, the realism is heartbreaking
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., March 23, 2012
'Jennifer Balkan: Peep Holes'Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth, 472-7428
Through March 31
The Wally Workman Gallery is packed with people.
There's no artist reception going on, there's no event. There's no one breathing the conditioned air within the gallery's elegant rooms.
The people are on the walls, captured with great skill and heartbreaking realism in paintings by the artist Jennifer Balkan. They're not people from the artist's imagination, although the paintings' subtle or striking elements of design – the compositions, the colors, the additional shapes and patterns – provide vivid testimony that the artist has imagination to spare.
No, these are people from real life: They're the artist's friends or neighbors or models hired to pose for a class or a project.
(Two of them are Kelli Bland and Michelle Keffer, who talk about their experience as models. See "Model Citizens Bland and Keffer," All Over Creation blog, March 21.)
And the realism is heartbreaking, as we said, because it's not photo-realism, it's not the sort of gambit wherein an artist tries to fool the eye into believing it's not looking at a painting. The portraits in this show are of young women, and they're precise and accurate but also infused with choices of color and texture that reveal a painter's hand as they also reveal, we'd argue, more of the subject's essence than even a professional photograph might define.
That Balkan studied behavorial neuroscience in college and that she has a Ph.D. in sociology come as little surprise in this context.
That this exhibition follows the previous Workman show of work by Ian Shults is either a happy accident of scheduling or impressive curatorial insight – because both Shults and Balkan are so proficient at rendering the figurative, but each has a distinct and distinctly memorable take on the manner in which they do this. To consider both exhibitions, one after the other, is almost – we reckon, possibly jamming a rhetorical foot into the tar baby of gender politics – it's almost like following a spectrum of creative perspective from the masculine to the feminine.
In any case, here's the beauty of the real, of living beings within this miracle of life, of what an intelligent and skilled painter can do with the bright polychrome mud of oils on panels and an eye for effective design.
The Wally Workman Gallery is packed with people. Go ahead: Stop by and say hello.