About Stephan Balkenhol
Stephan Balkenhol’s carved sculptures of everyday men and women shift and critique classical ideals of beauty. As curator Neal Benezra said of Balkenhol, “He does not seek to recapture the heroic glory of bygone periods but rather demonumentalizes the figurative statue by thrusting the most unremarkable men and women onto pedestals historically reserved for heroes and heroines.” His works blend wood-carving traditions of the Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance with the folk art of Poland and eastern Europe.
Using a variety of woods such as wawa, poplar, and Douglas fir, Balkenhol chisels impressive logs with power saws and hammers. Each figure is created from a single block, allowing his sculptures of lifelike men, women, animals, and perhaps even hybrid creatures to emerge from their bases. This carving technique links Balkenhol to German expressionism yet those depicted in his works are deadpan in appearance and avoid baroque gestures and emotions. Instead, it is the exposed incisions and rough surfaces on the finished forms that give a sense of vitality and compelling humanism to the sculptures.
Balkenhol avoids creating narratives or promoting allegorical interpretations. His figures are devoid of specific associations, and wear nondescript outfits, further emphasizing the everydayness of their forms. In the case of Four Women Group, 1998, all women wear the same uniform, not likely to give anything away. Balkenhol uses paint sparingly, only for clothes, hair, lips, and eyes; the color of raw wood represents the skin tones. The figures are never quite human size. With his own distinctive approach, Balkenhol has resuscitated figurative sculpture from what was a burdensome tradition.