Review: They Shoot Horses Don’t They
Stephan Balleux. They Shoot Horses Don’t They
Wardlow Studios 4 Wood St Fitzroy
Show open by appointment 3rd of March
Last Thursday night I thought I was going to the opening of a show by Berlin based, Belgian painter, Stephan Balleux but it turned out I was a week early. I was told that it was a preview, not an opening. Whatever, I got to have a good look at the works without the usual distractions of an opening and then I spent a very pleasant evening at the bar drinking Pimms with Stephan, art impresario Brodie Higgs, and artist Sam Leach.
My immediate impression of Stephan Balleux’s paintings at Wardlow Studios was that they were a cross between Gerhard Richter and Glenn Brown. On closer inspection, I found that they were both intriguing and superbly done. His paintings combine the blurry Richteresque photographic style with highly detailed renderings of globs of textured paint. In some paintings, historical photographs are reworked with luxuriant splotches of parasitic paint which contour and obscure the subject’s faces. Landscapes and animals are transubstantiated into swirling animistic paint. In other paintings faces emerge from vivid colour fields of sticky oil paint. I feel as though I am using the word paint far too much here but I’m not sure how to get around this, these are paintings of paint. Even the pastel drawings were about paint.
I chatted with Stephan about his methods over a few glasses of Pimms which were served with generous quantities of ice and mint by the director of Wardlow Studios, Brodie Higgs. I learnt that Balleux makes plaster casts of people’s faces and covers them with the aforementioned sticky oil paint before photographing them and then painting. I learnt that he went to Art school in Brussels at the age of fourteen. He told me that he lives in Berlin but sells his work in Belgium. In the history of painting, to say that Belgium figures prominently would be an understatement. The Van Eyck brothers, Jan and Hubert, pioneered the technology of oil paint in the fifteenth century and their works are possibly the most exquisite paintings in existence. Then there are the likes of Breughel, Rubens, Van Dyck, Magritte… my point is that with such an overwhelming weight of history the idea of painting today, particularly for a Belgian, could seem like a well trammelled field, and yet here is an example of an artist who has created strategies to not only make intriguing and beautiful images but also to make painting and the substance of paint a vital concern.