Artist Spotlight: Jack Balas

SUMMER RERUNS: We thought we would take this holiday weekend to sit on our laurels and review some art that we really wanted to see again. Balas plays with classic themes and "big art." He also plays with our feelings.

BY Christopher Harrity

August 30 2014 3:00 AM ET

Jack Balas is a Chicago-born, Colorado-based painter focusing on metaphoric images of men, cross-referenced at times with photos and writing. He is represented in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Tucson Museum of Art, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Iowa, and the Kent and Vicki Logan Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Recent solos include his 2008 project "We'll Be Seeing You" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, and "Tattoo Detour" at L2Kontemporary, Los Angeles, in 2010. Many of the works from the portfolio here are from the ongoing series Muse/Museum, which combines Balas's own images of his models with hand-painted layouts from other artists' ads in art magazines and catalogs, musing about how artists influence each other today and throughout history. The Muse series reenvisions populating the history of art with images of men. Naked women are seen always and everywhere without raising an eyebrow, but the nude male is often still suspect and controversial in the gallery system and museums. More work can be seen at his website, JackBalas.com.

JACK BALAS MUSE REGINALD MARSH TATTOO X560 | ADVOCATE.COM


The Advocate: Why are you an artist?
Jack Balas: It makes the most sense to me as far as enjoying something is concerned and "giving back" to the world at the same time. I've been interested since way back when, and of course have had other jobs for money, including teaching, being an artist's assistant, carpenter, and for five years I had a coast-to-coast trucking job as an art shipper, schlepping paintings and sculpture between galleries and museums, studios and collectors on a route from SFO and L.A. to New York. But it's making the stuff to hang on the walls that excites me the most.

What catches your eye?
Lots of things: places, events, certain guys. But the work doesn't end with simple renditions of these starting points. The goal is always to take what's around me and transform it in a way that is visually exciting, complex, and hopefully universal — i.e., creating images in which everyone can find something relevant on a personal level, something that transcends the quotidian.

Tell us about your process or techniques.
Oil painting on canvas or paper, watercolor, lots more ink drawing lately; really standard techniques. Collage lately too. I take photos of models whom I hire and work from those for expediency's sake. But one goal lately has been to work more from life, like out on the beach.

How do you choose your subjects?
They kind of grab me with their pecs and say "Paint me! Paint me!" (LOL). Seriously, though, I take open-ended photos of a lot of guys as a starting point and sort of shuffle through them looking for qualities that suggest or say something interesting. I keep a list of ideas, or words or phrases that in and of themselves can propel an image forward with the right models.

How do you describe your work?
My terminology is a bit rusty: painterly figuration, with a conceptual twist; figurative metaphors in a post-gay world. And I say "post-gay" because almost all of my models are straight, but they know the score and are cool with it.

What makes a good artwork to you?
Interesting, engaging imagery is the primary concern. Stuff that makes me think; things that can be more open-ended than pat. Work that might make a nod to the history of art, whether as individual pieces or in an artist's broader oeuvre. I love to see great technique, but I prefer to see it serve a higher goal; super technique by itself can be boring.

What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
So many people, really, which is one idea embedded in the Muse/Museum series — living artists and ones going way back too. Some of the paintings this year began to reference specific paintings in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose halls I wandered throughout high school and college growing up in the city. But to answer the question in a different way, if I could pick one photo to own and live with of all the photos out there, it could easily be Jeff Wall's Invisible Man. The sculpture could easily be Chris Burden's Medusa's Head. And the painting ... well, hopefully I'm working on that one out in the studio!

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