THE GROTESQUE IN THE DIVINE: A review of Warren Balane’s collection for the “Cool-2-Ra” exhibit
By Dennis B. Gonzaga THE IDEAL MADE FLESH IN his seminal work, La Vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel, François Rabelais utilized robust and exaggerated naturalism as a criticism of arbitrary social boundaries. Mikhail Bakhtin, in his review of Rabelais, suggests that there is an implied necessity for an institution of chaos—the carnivalesque—that can thin these socio-cultural lines and allow the whole of humanity to experience a mode of parity. This equivalence is achieved in the indirect reproach of rituals and artefacts that are deemed sacred. This analysis further implies that while societal laws are rigid and resistant to the deeper consequences of such tensions between the sacred and the profane, the Arts provide a viable terrain for such engagement. For Bakhtin, satire and hyperbole have the capacity to degrade the lofty, the ideal, and the spiritual into something that is material and therefore accessible by all. In the history of the Western Visual Arts, this shift to the carnivalesque and the grotesque were undertaken by the Post-Impressionists. No longer concerned with merely interpreting and experimenting with plain visual reality, the Post-Impressionists gradually turned their gaze inwards. Instead of immortalizing the divine, they showcased the routine. Their palettes and strokes no longer mirrored the textures and tones of the world. Instead, more painterly methods were developed to better capture on canvas the turmoil of the spirit. Roughness became a methodology. The likes of Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Henri Edmond-Cross and Vincent van Gogh became less concerned with the aesthetic rigors and claims of aptness which became the staples of the Salon. They used bolder strokes and rough pigment spots instead of subtle outlines. This technique—usually referred to as Pointilism—relied on the natural capacity of the eye of the observer to combine individual color spots into a full array of tones that converge into discernible forms and shapes. Although Pointilism was met with resistance due to its audacity and its rejection of aesthetic traditions, it became one of the core foundations of the avant-garde movement. BALANE’S RUSTIC MUSES Balane’s dryadic characters are evanescent. They seem like spectral afterthoughts rather than core elements. They are embedded into a maelstrom of transparencies and textures. Balane refrains from revelation. Instead, he merely spreads layers of vagueness, allowing his audience to interpret his images according to their internal prophecies and personal gospels. Balane depicts deities of vitality. He expands on the Mother Goddess archetype. But instead of rendering the Goddess in raiments of inviolability and veneration, Balane vitiates. The elements of visual balance enhance the surreal and the grotesque. There is hubris in Balane’s deities. They are not eidolons disposed to petitions. They are chthonic spirits. They are not divinities that echo humanity’s loftiest ideals. Instead, they are the very mirrors of the most primal aspects of instinct. In “Whisperer with Wings”, Balane’s deity thrives in her own abstraction, seemingly aloof to the considerations of the viewer. She is in her own world. She is her own world. She lets a wave of primeval vitality curl and cascade around her until she is reduced to an apparition. The same theme is employed in “Refuge.” The presence is faceless and featureless. Its form is noticeable only through the incidental roil of details. TEXTURE AS DISCOURSE Balane’s visual signature is a patchwork. His canvas is saturated with details that bleed into each other. His visual elements are like clockwork. Similar to the Pointilists, he invites his viewers to take part in the completion of his piece. He invites his viewers to use their eyes and their imaginative minds in the same way he uses his brush. His patchwork technique also provides versatility in the manner by which his pieces are to be appreciated. Unlike typical paintings which are intended to be processed from a cultured distance, Balane’s pieces appeals offer different modes of appeal depending on where the observer is situated. “Reverberating Melodies” is an example of this. Viewed from a distance, the piece evokes rustic languor and wistfulness. The detailed elements seamlessly blend into each other to suggest serenity. This “horror vacui” lends ripeness to his composition. But a closer look reveals a contrasting effect. One is immediately bombarded with an explosion of energy. “Reverberating Melodies” is a busy piece. Background elements are revealed to be intricate filigrees, tendrils, leaves, and petals caught in the endless dance of vitality. Balane even includes dots of purples, pale yellows, and subdued reds that either suggest fireflies or random trickeries of ambient light. Balane mutes his colors to provide more credence to the texture of his latticework. “Freewill” is almost an exception to the theme since the colors are relatively more vibrant. But there is enough restraint in the quality of the colors so that the ornamentation remains the point of focus. CONCLUSION Balane’s pieces offer an intriguing look into how an art piece often evolves beyond the artist’s claim and musings. Balane hints at reverence. There is the attempt to defer to notions of the supreme. His collection affirms an awareness and recognition of the divine. His dryads evoke the amity and calmness of nature. And yet, there is a seething frenzy to these same pieces. Regardless of the artist’s assertions, the divine personas that reside on his canvas are truly beautiful monstrosities. They evoke the notion of feral phantasms seeking emancipation from the artist’s shackles of cultured creativity. They are transitory apparitions caught in the cycle of a ferocious metamorphosis.