Stephan Balkenhol was born in 1957, in Fritzlar, North-Hesse, and grew up in Kassel. From 1976 until 1982, he studied at the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, where he was a student of Ulrich Rückriem. Balkenhol received several stipends and art awards and attracted international attention through the exhibition of his work in public spaces (for example, »Skulpturen Projekte Münster« (»Sculpture Projects Münster«), 1987). In 1988 — 89 he taught at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg and then went to lecture at the Städelsche Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt. In 1991, he was awarded a professorship at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe. His first wood works were done at a time when the figural reemerged not only in sculpture but also in painting. After the realist sculptures of US-American Pop Art of the 1960s and 1970s, and shortly after the sensation-provoking figural wood sculptures done in Germany (starting in 1980 with Baselitz and others), Balkenhol developed a sculptural language of his own. Focused on the object itself, it is also shaped by the reception of expressionist wood sculpture and by newer tendencies in the figural sculpture of the early 1980s.
Balkenhol’s rough-hewn, sometimes painted wood sculptures are often chiseled from poplar, leaving part of the block as base. They have by now become a trademark of the artist. Unpolished, with splinters and cracks that reveal the material process of sculpting as well as the aliveness of the wood, they provide an unusual perspective on humans and animals, on mythical motifs, and on architecture. At the same time, they demonstrate an intense involvement with the materiality and the spatial relations of sculpture.
»I want everything at the same time: sensuousness, expression but not too much; aliveness but no superficial chattering; that which is caught in the moment but no anecdote; wit but no joke; self-irony but no cynicism. And first of all, I want a beautiful, silent figure that says much and nothing« (qtd. in: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Kurhaus Kleve, 2004).
Balkenhol indeed positions his images of the human between extremes, between statement and silence. His figures range from small-format to larger-than-life, and with their mostly subdued color accentuations they retain a closeness to the object itself. And they are far removed from the idea of illusionist deception. The female and male types are defined through place and time, wear contemporary, western clothing, and are presented, for exmaple, through their hair styles and the muted coloring of their lips, as object-related. Still, in their emotionless autonomy and indeterminacy, but also in the visible traces of work, in the structure of the wood, and in the often isolated placing and alignment, the figures also appear entirely removed from the defining factors of place and time. They even take on a touching quality.
Beyond the better-known sculptures and reliefs, Balkenhol’s work also includes drawings, woodcuts, photography, screenprints, and wooden objects (Paravent Auto / Ameisen, 1997). Recently, the artist has also done wood reliefs and portraits which, in their figural and partly ornamental character, show the influence of modern French sculpture, for example, the work of Gauguin. Moreover, there are wood and bronze sculptures and sculpture installations for public spaces (Neuer Eisener Mann, 2004, Kleve; Mann und Frau, 2004, Hamburg).
Since the 1980s, Balkenhol’s work has been shown at many exhibitions: at the Kunstraum Hamburg (1985), at the Friedman Gallery, London (1996), at the Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig (2001), at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2006), and at the Küppersmühle Museum für moderne Kunst, Duisburg (2007). His work has also been part of many group exhibitions, for example, at the Brücke Museum Berlin (»Die Stipendiaten der Karl-Schmidt-Rottluff-Stiftung,« 1984), at the Kunsthaus Bregenz (»Kunst in der Stadt,« 1997), at the Museum Bochum (»Photografierte Bilder,« 2001), at the Art Museum Bonn (»Zeichen des Glaubens,« 2005), and at the Lentos, Linz (»Ein gemeinsamer Ort,« 2007).
Stephan Balkenhol lives in Karlsruhe and Meisenthal, Lorraine.
Stephan Balkenhol Werkschau: Ausst.-Kat. Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden u.a., hg. v. M. Winzen, Ostfildern 2006
Stephan Balkenhol: Ausst.-Kat. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Texte v. K. Gallwitz und U. Grzechca-Mohr, Frankfurt/M. 1991
Stephan Balkenhol: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstverein Braunschweig, Texte v. W. Bojescul und L. Gerdes, Braunschweiger, Braunschweig 1987
Stephan Balkenhol: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Basel, Basel 1988