Thursday, March 21, 2013

James Balla coming to PAAM Summer 2013

Ominous, alone...(2012);24 x 24"; oil paint on panel 

Second Sight and the Balance of Opposites

James Balla makes mysteries. Right away we sense this about the work. It is about flowers but it's not. It is about clouds but it's not. We don't necessarily want it to be complicated, especially unpredictable, but it is. We are tempted to be happy with the elegance of its exterior, the tip of its iceberg, but that would be a mistake. 

James Balla is poet as painter, or the other way around. Living a quiet life as an artist in Provincetown, a quiet life that of course rages like the sound and the fury. How could it not? The farther you get away the closer you get.  He is surrounded by nature. It permeates everything he sees, everything he feels,  everything he paints. The broad sweep of ocean and sky. The way light and pattern play across that expanse. The way in one motion he can discover something washed up on the sand at his feet, and then look up and explode beyond the infinite, beyond the imagination, beyond the horizon, beyond the clouds, beyond the stars. How he takes that, and makes sense of it, and transforms it, is what gets gifted to us in his work. That is what he frames for us, lays at our feet, shows us with a wave of his hand. The results are always somehow primordial, even mythical. Somehow prehistoric in the best sense of the word. Before we got here. Somehow just between us and our maker. Creation. Not much in between.

Untitled(2003); 15 x 15"; oil enamel on mylar

That process of transformation, the way his experience gets translated into the paintings, is very much at the heart of the mystery of this work. It requires a certain wonder, a kind of plunge. Of him and us. Contemplation and experimentation. Laying something bare, lifting layers, and laying it all out there. Examination and exposure. James Balla goes out over that edge. Here he is Kokopelli with a wry smile. His paintings flow like a rising tsunami. They flood him. They flood us. A watery life. A watery death. Complicated. Just as they are a marriage of opposites, of earth and sky, dark and light, immensity and density, that balance of opposites can also become a war. The fight between things. Breaking up and making up. War and peace. Peace and war. They are the irreconcilable. The contradictory. They need each other, complement each other. But. Paradox. The great mystery. Paradox at work; paradox at play; paradox on holiday! 

They dance, they collide. Flashing! Running hot and cold. Freud's life wish and death wish having at it. Humidifier and dehumidifier in a room fighting it out. Love is a battlefield. Black white, white black. Line space, space line. Man woman, woman man. Light dark, dark light.  Real abstract, abstract real. Figure ground, ground figure. Patterns. Shapes. Things. The idea of things.Creation and destruction, destruction and creation, and back again. They are the stuff of James Balla’s work.

Art's paradoxes. Dada's anti-art art; Surrealism's dream made real(or is it the other way around); Pop's commodity as art(or again, is it the other way around); Minimalism's less is more. How much time have you got? It is all there in the work. As much as James Balla loves nature, he loves art. They are the light out of darkness. 

And is it work? Why do we call it work? Why ask? Because what the artist does is, again, so much the mystery. We call it work so that we know it is hard, but it goes beyond that. To infinity. So why do we call it work again? So we can hide behind that? So we can play? The play of Jung. The play of digging. Fathoming. Sounding. Seeking. We play. Hide and seek! What’s in a name? James Balla. Ballare! Dance!  James. Jim. Gym! Jungle Gym! See Jim dance! See Jim play. See Jim find his way. In the mush of paint, or asphaltum, or graphite, all like earth in his hands, looking for what’s at the bottom, like a boy digging in his backyard, exploring, certain he will find the light, the treasure, and maybe even China! 

Signs. That’s what we see. The perhaps foolish gesture of hope that is art-making. That beautiful cut flower that rots in the vase and putrefies its water. Live to live. Live and die. We pick ourselves up and go forth. Tabula Rasa. A new beginning. Despite the unbearable we nonetheless bear.  Growth and decay. Over and over. It leaves its mark on us as we leave our mark on it. The human being. The artist. James Balla makes paintings tuned to this station. The dream, the illusion, the real. Memories, dreams, visions. Clairvoyance. Second sight. Where does it begin? Where does it end? The circles. The seasons? In life and death? Does art transcend that? James Balla believes so. His work is proof. His work is exhibit A.

Soul in Flight((1997); 50 x 50"; asphaltum, shellac on linen

But we can forget about all that. The living and dying. The hope and despair. The happy sad. The way they define each other all too well. Here again we have that simplicity. Complexity broken down. Broken down into shapes. Vessels that try to contain some unfathomable fluid in place. Fluid life that spills out, that is otherwise without shape, without contours, without order. A mess. And then patterns. Degrees of patterns. Patterns of things real or imagined. Patterns of stripes. Patterns of flowers. Patterns of clouds. Patterns in space. Patterns in dreams. Real or imagined. James Balla gifts us a painting. A sign. A sign of life. Of truth. In the mystery that is life and art we get a moment’s peace. The beauty makes it so.

The Source(1992); 48 x 48"; oil on canvas

And still. It is just a moment. The work keeps vacillating! Of course! Kind to be cruel; cruel to be kind. Can't make up its mind. Back and forth. Gentle tough. Big picture attention to details. James Balla keeps us moving. The new day. Anything can happen.

But the proof is in the pudding; it all comes out in the wash. There is this thing. The work of art. The poem. The painting. Yes. That is it. All that matters. The talk stops there. And then starts. The work happens. The painting happens. It is born. It is real.  And after every winter the bear comes out of his cave, the birds migrate back north, the perennials blossom and bloom. The winter turns to spring and summer. The resurrection! The power and the glory! For ever and ever? Amen!

We have this to look forward to and we do. Wash away the winter; summer is here. A new season. A new body of work from the poet artist James Balla! Behold! Ecco! And of course, as always, just a word of caution! Keep your eyes peeled!  Things aren't what they seem. Pay attention. And let the work play, wash over you, sneak up on you like that tsunami. Feet in the sand, feet in the surf. Waves going in and out.

Wings of Silence(1995) 30 x 30”; oil on linen

You get to muse like he muses. See like he sees. Feel like he feels.  Dream like he dreams. On nature. On life. On love. On art. On stars. On clouds! On all of those things and more! 

And what of all their opposites? They are there. On hold, if only for a moment. Sort of. Finding the beginning or the end is that bowl of spaghetti. Never mind. Won't happen. Just eat! Mangiare! Enjoy! And be happy! Go on! Summer won't last forever!

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

 James Balla has an upcoming retrospective at PAAM in Provincetown opening June 28, 2013

1 comment:

Martin Mugar said...

Somewhere between the clash of words,the clash of worlds the work lives.Thank you Addison for placing Balla's work afloat on a sea of change.Otherwise it would not know itself.