Human beings are at the heart of Stephan Balkenhol’s work. Usually they are alone, but now and then they may be accompanied by animals or architectural elements. The figures we encounter in his delicate drawings or in roughly hewn wooden sculptures with painted finishes are anonymous, reserved, even emotionless. A man leans against a table, a dancing woman swirls her skirt, another woman gazes directly at us clutching her arm, a man draws a stick figure—Balkenhol captures unremarkable moments. The people he pictures are entirely absorbed in themselves. They look composed, impartial, aloof. Their gaze, despite being directed toward us, often seems vacant. This further heightens their intriguingly puzzling air: “So far I’ve always wanted to keep the figures’ characters and demeanor as open as possible and not pin them down with some telling expression,” Balkenhol explained in an interview in 1992, the same year that he became a professor at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Karlsruhe.(1)
When Balkenhol studied under Ulrich Rückriem and Sigmar Polke at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, his figurative compositions went against the grain of the prevailing abstract art and conceptual art: “My works aren’t portraits in the concrete sense: they don’t portray anyone in particular, nor are they signs or symbols of human beings.”(2)
Balkenhol’s small-format drawings should not be seen as preparatory studies for his sculptures, however closely related they may be thematically. In a few deft lines Balkenhol secures his observations of both the external and the internal world. Succinct yet hesitant, almost awkwardly rendered, these images are telling examples of thinking through drawing.
(1) Stephan Balkenhol in conversation with Thomas Schütte, in Stephan Balkenhol. Über Menschen und Skulpturen / About Men and Sculpture, Stuttgart 1992, pp. 72–79, here p. 74.
(2) Stephan Balkenhol in conversation with Marie Luise Syring and Christiane Vielhaber, in BiNATIONALE. Deutsche Kunst der späten 80er Jahre / German Art of the Late 80s, trans. William A. Mickens, Cologne 1988, pp. 68–77, here p. 69.
Further works by Stephan Balkenhol in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0651, Relief, 1994, Wood and paint, 115 x 97 x 13.5 cm
Inv. no. 0707, Untitled, n. d., Pencil on paper, 21 x 14.8 cm
Inv. no. 0708, Untitled, 1981, Chalk on paper, 21 x 14.8 cm
Inv. no. 0709, Untitled, 1981, Pencil on paper, 23.5 x 17.4 cm
Inv. no. 0710, Untitled, 1985, Pencil on paper, 21 x 15 cm
Inv. no. 0711, Untitled, 1986, Pencil on paper, 15 x 21 cm
Inv. no. 0712, Untitled, 1986, Pencil on paper, 21 x 15 cm
Inv. no. 0713, Untitled, n. d., Pencil on paper, 21 x 15 cm
Inv. no. 0803, Untitled, 1981, India ink on paper, 21 x 14.8 cm
Inv. no. 0804, Untitled, 1983, India ink on paper, 21 x 14.8 cm
Inv. no. 0805, Untitled, 1982, India ink on paper, 22.6 x 15.2 cm
Inv. no. 0806, Untitled, 1984, Pencil on paper, 20.9 x 14.8 cm
Inv. no. 0811, Figurensäule (Paar), 2001, Wawa wood and paint, 164 x 24 x 34.5 cm
Inv. no. 0864, Untitled, 1983, Pencil on paper, 21 x 14.5 cm
Inv. no. 0865, Untitled, 1981, Pencil on paper, 21 x 14.5 cm