The Artist's Gaze: Jennifer Balkan

Jennifer drew as a child and though discovered her grandmother's oil paints way back when, she did not embrace painting until her adult life.  She studied behavioral neuroscience in college and attained her Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on Latin America.  Though intellectually stimulated, she felt a creative void and longed for passion in her work.  She then began to paint.  Jennifer's paintings are emotionally-based psychological narratives in which she presents a close-up figure in a stark background — where the details lie in planes of color.   She chooses to exaggerate color, in a sense break up a color field into its constituent colors, directing the viewer to particular areas by applying juicy bits of heavily saturated color.  Jennifer strives to capture emotional states more than anything else, purposefully laying strokes down to create the illusion of an outer physical topography that houses an inner one of the soul.    Jennifer has exhibited her work in galleries nationwide including the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York, the Principle Gallery located in both Alexandria and Charleston, the Wally Workman Gallery in Austin, the Winston-Wachter Gallery in Sacramento, the Hespe Gallery in San Francisco and the Elliot Fouts Gallery Sacramento.  She also has shown work in Art Jingle Contemporary in Paris.  Her paintings have been featured in New American Paintings, American Art Collector, Combustus, The New York Optimist, Southwest Art and Poet/Artist Magazine.   Jennifer regularly teaches figurative painting and portraiture in oils to small groups in her studio in Austin and conducts workshops. 

Jennifer drew as a child and though discovered her grandmother's oil paints way back when, she did not embrace painting until her adult life.  She studied behavioral neuroscience in college and attained her Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on Latin America.  Though intellectually stimulated, she felt a creative void and longed for passion in her work.  She then began to paint.  Jennifer's paintings are emotionally-based psychological narratives in which she presents a close-up figure in a stark background — where the details lie in planes of color.   She chooses to exaggerate color, in a sense break up a color field into its constituent colors, directing the viewer to particular areas by applying juicy bits of heavily saturated color.  Jennifer strives to capture emotional states more than anything else, purposefully laying strokes down to create the illusion of an outer physical topography that houses an inner one of the soul.   

Jennifer has exhibited her work in galleries nationwide including the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York, the Principle Gallery located in both Alexandria and Charleston, the Wally Workman Gallery in Austin, the Winston-Wachter Gallery in Sacramento, the Hespe Gallery in San Francisco and the Elliot Fouts Gallery Sacramento.  She also has shown work in Art Jingle Contemporary in Paris.  Her paintings have been featured in New American Paintings, American Art Collector, Combustus, The New York Optimist, Southwest Art and Poet/Artist Magazine.  

Jennifer regularly teaches figurative painting and portraiture in oils to small groups in her studio in Austin and conducts workshops. 

Interview with Jennifer Balkan
The Artist's Gaze
Curated by Victoria Selbach
Sirona Fine Art Gallery

What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?

I am usually drawn psychologically to my subjects.  They have something inside and outside into which I am seeking to tap.  I often am putting them into a particular role, much like an actor in a play though the subject of course brings herself into whatever it is I am asking her to do.  Then when I approach the painting of my subject, I imagine building up layers from her core to the final layer of skin.  

When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?

I feel an intimacy with everyone I paint, some more than others.  I study their faces and lay down each stroke imagining what that skin has been through; where it has been; what feelings lie underneath it.  I think I develop a stronger connection with those with whom I work with on multiple occasions.  I love developing a relationship with my subject so that she can easily get into my mind, that is, can tap into what it is I am looking for.  

Tell us about a strong reaction you have received to your work and the impact you sense it has made on the subject, viewer or the greater cultural landscape.

One memorable reaction occurred when a viewer began to cry upon seeing a painting.  She said she resonated with the subject.  She could feel her sentiment.  She could relate to her eyes.  I am driven to capture emotion when I paint.  I strive to create a picture that evokes an emotional response.  I have always sought to get beneath the surface of the paint.  I am obsessed with brain science, specifically brain/behavior relationships.  I read about this when I'm not painting.  I love thinking about perception; I am stricken with portraiture for this reason….I'm so drawn to faces because of my urge to illuminate what lies under one's skin or state of mind.    Psychology of mind drives my artwork.  

What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women.

I put myself into my work, that is, they are all somewhat autobiographical in feeling and emotion.  Because I am motivated to express a particular concept or idea that is personal to me, I have always been naturally drawn to painting women.  

Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?

I hope to create connection between paint and viewer.  I am still humbled by the idea that the manipulation of blobs of paint laid on a canvas can stir someone's senses.  This fuels my passion.   I have a dialogue with my canvas that continues as I paint….but once I finish the work and it leaves my hands, a new dialogue begins -- with the viewer and the work.  I would hope that it continues and changes through time.  That is, a viewer finds new meaning as s/he resides with a piece.

How does your subject make a change in your artist's gaze?

I often set out with a particular idea in mind.  My subject always adds to this idea in ways that I can never anticipate.  It is exciting and unsettling at the same time.   Sometimes I completely change my mind because I like more what my subject has brought to me.   The interaction can be wonderful.  

Tell us about your current series or work and how it may be different from the work submitted for the show.

I have been yearning to paint people who have been around on this planet for a bit longer than half a century.  I have been painting the youth for quite some time.  As the clock ticks, I think about aging more than ever.  I am ready for new adventures in paint.  I have begun painting a series that includes my friend and fellow painter who is 62.  She is sophisticated, graceful and wise.  She is a mother; an artist; a widow, and more.   I have already done one large painting of her in the natural world, entitled "Universe."  I have also been working on some head studies in preparation for more pieces.  

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