figurative paintings - Jennifer Balkan,
Jennifer Balkan, "Thoughts in Blue, Three," 2023, oil, acrylic, and spray paint on panel, 30 x 20 in.

The Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art is presenting recent works by Jennifer Balkan (b. 1970), who grew up near New York City and is based in Austin. On view, “Thoughts in Between” features figurative paintings with deftly managed coloration and thought bubbles derived from comic books that let us know the subject is actively thinking.

“My newest body of work has been a journey that started in 2019 after I lost my dog companion and then took a turn once the pandemic struck, as I picked up another medium during isolation, fueling me to consider drawing in a way that would live side by side with painting,” Balkan said. “Within this time period, I created ‘Pandemonium,’ figurative paintings with graphic elements reminiscent of comic book art of the 1960s.

“I wanted to continue this thread where the viewer sees the subjects as actively thinking and the figures communicate across canvases — on a wall. I also wanted to merge my new obsession with paint pens with my beloved oil paint. Together on spray-painted elegant damask patterns, I intended it to evoke thoughts of mural art I imagined these images as those band and theater flyers I grew up seeing in Manhattan, posters layered on top of one another, peeling away, causing me to think about the sometimes-ephemeral nature of images.

“The thought bubbles illustrate the active thoughts of my subjects and the shared thoughts between subjects, between canvases. The individual portraits and figures have fully chromatic faces but live within limited and selected color palettes, monochrome and duochrome — playing with the psychological impact of isolating color.”

Jennifer Balkan, “ = thoughts in green and blue (study for thoughts in grey, one),” 2023, oil, acrylic paint pens, acrylic and spray paint on panel, 24 x 18 in.
Jennifer Balkan, “Thoughts in Green and Blue (Study for Thoughts in Grey, One),” 2023, oil, acrylic paint pens, acrylic and spray paint on panel, 24 x 18 in.

Also included is a group of works proposing a world in which dogs are the active thinkers, with humans along in supporting roles. “The highly chromatic dog paintings offer a world in which the dogs are subjects, and their humans reside in their world, encapsulating the closeness that is between dogs and humans,” Balkan said. “The dogs here are the active thinkers who draw the viewer’s attention. Chroma is pushed heavily adding to the dreamlike sentiment of these works.”

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Related > Check out the “Limited Palette Portraits” art video workshop by Jennifer Balkan:

Jennifer Balkan - Limited Palette Portraits workshop

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