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Stephan Balkenhol’s latest softwood sculptures are captivating. The towering ‘Ballerina’ is immediately impressive but, as shown in ‘Women with Red Trousers’, her hands tucked in her pockets, and the tiny ‘Woman in Red Dress’, the German artist’s real forté is in finding grandeur in everyday figures and casual poses.
New to London audiences are the landscapes in this show. Large ink-jet photo prints on plywood, they are ostensibly tranquil nature scenes. But there’s a violent twist. In ‘Wood’, a hill scene has been gouged with deep, vertical cuts, exposing the plywood underneath. Similarly, in ‘Lake’, the realism of a valley scene is betrayed by expanses of thick, shiny paint in place of water, reflecting the texture of the artwork’s plywood base.
Balkenhol’s sculptures and landscapes intriguingly straddle the line between realism and artifice. His sculpted characters, with their realistic poses and delicate expressions, are instantly convincing, yet Balkenhol has intentionally left their wooden edges rough and unpolished. His landscapes are plausible but Balkenhol’s bold surface interventions draw attention to their artificiality.
This contradiction is what makes Balkenhol’s work so interesting; your eye constantly shifts between seeing his pieces as elements of a mysterious, imaginary narrative and appreciating them as the inventive, expert manipulation of materials.
Ronan, 29, is a members’ club concierge from Chelsea. He was selected to write this review as part of the Time Out Takeover – a special edition of the magazine written entirely by our readers.