Stephan Balkenhol at the CAC

Arts & Culture

Contemplative figurative sculpture in natural wood

The first new exhibition in the CAC for 2018 celebrates the work of German sculpture Stephen Balkenhol. If you are a fan of the CAC, you are familiar with one of his works already. The large bronze statue of the man with backward leaning legs is a 2002 work that has stood outside the gallery for some years and is emblematic of the gallery: modern, unpredictable, breaking with convention always and full of surprises every time.

So it's a pleasure to see a full exhibition of Stephen's work, and this one doesn't disappoint. Balkenhol studied at the Hamburg School of Fine Arts during an epoch dominated by minimalist and conceptual art. His sculptures are unapologetically figurative and distinct departure from minimalism and abstract concepts. His simple, beautifully worked figures are alive with texture and dynamic, due to his refusal to make any attempt at a fine finish or disguise the wooden medium in any way. The wood in these sculptures is alive and vibrant, its textures and subtleties lend the figures a drama and vitality that the simplistic depiction of an expressionless human figure would otherwise deny. The pieces are never life-size, always bigger or smaller. The sheer size of the blocks from which they are carved in some figures lends them an epic power which undercuts the neutrality of their expression. There are subtle and not so subtle hints of sexuality, always ambiguous and indistinct, and the sculpture invites you to project your perceptions and assumptions of the characters onto the wood.

The roughness of the finish that celebrates its medium, and the use of simplistic painting to make an almost cartoonish representation of the figure is at once accessible and impenetrable. The smaller figures are pregnant with potential meaning, always hovering behind the gnarled wooden textures, like dolls struggling to come to life, but what sort of life can only be guessed at. It can be an unnerving effect. 

The show runs through to April 22nd 2018, and is free to enter, 10.00am to 20.00pm. Closed on Mondays.
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