German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol‘s carved, expressionless wooden figures and reliefs have many critics wondering just what they are about. Balkenhol sculpts stoic characters standing on top of plinths with minimal detailing, wearing basic, unfussy clothes and who are often staring off in space. His figures are everyday people, caught in a disengaged daydream. Working in African Wawa, Oak, or Lebanese Cedar wood, Balkenhol uses a hammer and chisel to reveal the figure, choosing to leave bits of shavings, knots, grains and cracks visible in the finished piece. The rough hewed sculptures are then painted over in bright block acrylic color, emphasizing the plainness of their shape. Balkenhol manages to remove all personality and emotion from his figures, effectively turning them into a blank canvas, ready for the viewer to project their own story, and interpretation onto them. The artist explains:
I’m perhaps proposing a story and not telling the end, just giving a beginning or fragment. There is still a lot for the spectator to complete… (Source)
Balkenhol has been carving the human form for a few decades now, and has shown it in many different forms. He has figures dancing on top of plinths, carrying out various dance steps; a lady in a green dress with an animal head, standing still with her hands on thighs; a man in black trousers and a white shirt with his hand slouched in his pocket. But all are as nondescript as the next. One critic dissects his work:
In the crowd, the individual is freed from the tyranny of distance and transcends the limits of his own person. If Balkenhol’s heads remain anonymous individuals, it is because they have a memory of the crowd embedded within them. (Source)
Blankenhol’s figures are a little bit of all of us – humans as individuals, and humans as a mass group; the everyday people.