Stephan Balkenhol (1957, Fritzlar, Germany.)
Lives and works in Karlsruhe, Germany and Meisenthal, France.
Balkenhol is one of the most internationally renowned German artists of our time, famous for his figurative painted wooden sculptures and reliefs. He began sculptural wood carving in the mid-1980s.
Balkenhol attended the Hamburg School of Fine Arts from 1976 to 1982, and studied under Ulrich Rückriem with Nam June Paik and Sigmar Polke among his tutors.
As a response to the abstract, minimalist and conceptual approaches of the Hamburg School, Balkenhol decided to concentrate on an everyday persona, instead of an idol or hero. By the 1990s, his repertoire had expanded to include animals and hybrid creatures, as well as architectural motifs and reliefs.
His totem-like sculptures of everyday people continue the European tradition of wooden sculpture and reference folk art and medieval and classical Greek sculpture.
Balkenhol’s work is a concatenation of sensuality, vivacity, monumentality and humor. His figures emanate timelessness: simple, plain-colored clothing and the confident yet unassuming poses of familiar yet anonymous men and women who show no subjective feelings or emotions and contain no sociological or socio-critical references.
The artist uses a variety of woods, such as poplar, Douglas fir and wawa wood, and hand carves each piece from a single block using hammers, power saws and chisels, leaving behind shavings and traces visible in the wood, with its knots, grain and cracks. He then uses paint to structure the sculpture and accentuate the anatomy, without in any way heightening the figure’s expressiveness. His human figures are never polished to waxy smoothness and artifice – just like humans, they would not be unique without imperfections. The rough surfaces and cuts create a sense of life force hidden inside seemingly apathetic human’s faces, reflecting artist’s spirit and faith in humanity.
“Figurative sculpture is often misused as a bearer of messages. In my vision, my sculptures become a question, a mirror. And it is the viewer who fills it with meaning.”
After his studies in Hamburg, he received two scholarships, and was offered a teaching position at his alma mater in 1988. Subsequently, he taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Frankfurt-am-Main until 1991. Balkenhol has been teaching sculpture at the Karlsruhe Fine Arts School since 1992.
Balkenhol’s work has been shown in numerous solo exhibitions around the world, including the Lehmbruck Museum (Duisburg, Germany), Museum Jorn (Silkeborg, Denmark), Landes Museum (Linz, Austria), Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA, USA), MKM Museum Küppersmühle für moderne Kunst (Duisburg, Germany), Museum of Grenoble (Grenoble, France) and Staatliche Kunsthalle (Baden-Baden, Germany).
Balkenhol has also completed a significant number of public commissions in his career. Among them are the “Big Head Column” for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice, Italy), “Big Man with a Little Man” for Pariser Platz (Berlin, Germany), “Man and Woman” for Hamburg Central Library (Hamburg, Germany), “Everyman” for the Edinburgh City Council Offices (Edinburgh, Scotland) and “Man with Tower Block” (Toronto, Canada).
Selected public collections:
Hirshhorn Museum (Washington, DC, USA)
Los Angeles County Museum (MOCA) (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL, USA)
Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt (Frankfurt, Germany)
Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA, USA)
Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA,USA)
Eli Broad Foundation (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Chase Manhattan Art Purchase Program (New York, NY, USA)
Johnson County Community College (Kansas, USA)
Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama, USA)
Le CEAAC (Strasbourg, France)
Mission Bay Community Center (San Francisco, CA, USA)
Pasadena Museum of California Art (Los Angeles, CA, USA)