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05 Nov 2015

Layers of Pride: Lee Balan's Digital Works Star in a New Exhibit at Woodman/Shimko Gallery

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“Freedom” by Lee Balan. “Freedom” by Lee Balan.

Lee Balan is well-known as the town crier, of sorts, for the area’s arts. He gathers information about receptions, events, performances and exhibits throughout the Coachella Valley and High Desert, and sends it to anyone who wants it.

However, many people don’t know about Balan’s talents as a visual artist. Some of his newer works will be on exhibit at Woodman/Shimko Gallery in a Gay Pride-themed show, starting with a reception on Friday, Nov. 6.

Before moving to the desert from the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago, Balan frequently integrated his art with his other professional responsibilities. For example, Balan, as the director of a San Francisco mental-health program called The Clubhouse, demonstrated how creative efforts can be effective tools when working with the mentally ill.

Some might consider Balan’s current arts emphasis—the digital manipulation of visual images—quite different from the assemblages and sculptures he created during his time in the Bay Area. However, that assessment is inaccurate: His work consistently shows his ability to reinterpret, rethink and ultimately give new meaning to an existing object or picture. Balan notes that he began exploring digital art back in the 1980s with what is now considered a computer relic: a Commodore Amiga.

The works being exhibited at Woodman/Shimko reflect Balan’s expert application of Photoshop tools. Balan begins with an isolated individual image; he then creates layers by melding and superimposing images to create a total composition.

In this show, the only work in which he does not layer various images is “Freedom.” Here, a woman in white rides atop a black-and-white horse. The entire background is black. However, Balan does two things to make this image complex and dynamic. The first involves his angling of the horse and rider: Using a technique developed by Asian artists and later explored by the French Impressionists, Balan positions the horse and rider at an angle, creating both depth and motion. Second is the addition of a colored banner. Against the stark black-and-white composition, the multicolored flag breaks the monotony of what would otherwise be an overly stark and possibly boring image.

Layering and not-so-delicate shading are at the core of “Guardians” (first below). Below Buddha’s eyes, a Christ-like figure presides over a forward-facing nude angel, seated with his arms wrapped around his knees. Behind the central figure’s right and left are two additional angels: one profiled, but facing outward; the second is farther back in space, perhaps disappearing into the distance. The mood of “Guardians” is unsettling and eerie. The potentially peaceful nature suggested by the Christ figure and Buddha’s eyes is disrupted by the positioning of the angels, the electric colors and the shading.

Balan uses layering to play with one’s experience of space and time in “The Park” (second below) using a technique reminiscent of that of Peter Milton. However, Balan—unlike Milton—includes greens, oranges and yellows, creating depth that is more explicit than implicit. Thanks to the layering, the positioning of the picture’s elements appears to be changing. The composition is populated with trees that might appear in a classic drypoint or etching; Balan then embeds various figures—primarily young, attractive men. In the center of the composition, floating amidst the trees, is a Ferris wheel.

In addition to his work as a visual artist, Lee Balan is a poet and author who maintains an active blog. The artist welcomes comments on his poetry, short stories and essays at leebalanarts.wordpress.com.

The opening for Lee Balan’s Gay Pride-themed exhibit takes place from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6, at Woodman/Shimko Gallery, 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, and the exhibit will remain on display through Thursday, Nov. 19. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit the event’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1067997383218435.

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