August 23, 2021

Wood Blocks by Balán

         Américo Abraham Balán (Ukraine/Argentina, 1915-1986) worked in a broad diversity of media, from painting to writing, from set design to caricature.  Of course it’s his wood block prints that I have for you today.  His images seem to carry heavy symbolism, although I don’t know of what!  Some seem downright surrealist, as the last piece shown here.  But in other cases it’s simply the odd juxtapositions of people, or their distorted positions or expressions that seem like they must have some deep significance.
        In the first piece here, the crowd of human figures fit into the space in all directions, some crouched or distorted in order to fit, while others are cropped and show only in part.  Some look more like abstract sculptures than people.  Why are these people arranged is this way?  I don’t know, but it’s definitely an interesting choice for composition.
        These two men share a few interesting features.  First, their faces look as if they’re carved from blocks of wood.  They are carved into wood, of course, but I mean that the block prints look like portraits of wooden sculptures rather than portraits of living humans.  Secondly, the anatomy is extremely stylized, with odd and awkward proportions and positions.  Thirdly, they share with many of Balán’s pieces the characteristic of going right up to the edges of the block, and even being cropped and constrained by the block’s dimensions.  This is another unusual and interesting choice for composition.
        The fourth piece shares with the third another characteristic.  While all of Balán’s pieces have very roughly carved out backgrounds, these two include seemingly random chunks of the backgrounds that simply aren’t carved out at all.  I am curious about how much this was a deliberately planned choice and how much this is the result of Balán being spontaneous and expressionistic with his carving.  This is my favorite of today’s pieces, with the enormous man leaning over to pet the tiny dog.  This man, like some of the women in the first piece above, has a huge crouched body with disproportionately tiny head and feet.  They look as if they would burst right out of their blocks if they tried to stand up straight.
        I haven’t been able to find much information about the individual pieces.  Many seem to be untitled, and most are posted on the internet without dates or any other specifics.  They all seem to be from the mid-twentieth century, and more than that I can’t say.  
On the whole I don’t love these - they’re a little too distorted for my taste - but they are definitely interesting, and I do enjoy that they’re a little unusual.  Do you like them?

[Pictures: Untitled, wood block print by Américo Abraham Balán, 1964;

3 wood block prints of men by Balán, unknown date;

Untitled, wood block print by Balán, 1964;

alarm clock woman, wood block print by Balán, unknown date;

(Images from RISD and Taringa).]


Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

The first block reminds me of a Picasso, viewing reality from different angles. And, only because of the clock, the final one makes me think of Dali. All interesting conversation pieces.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yeah, there are definitely some of those same ideas that were floating around with other artists.

Pax said...

Interesting pieces. He makes it very obvious that these are wood block prints, emphasizing the roughness that can be part of the medium (but doesn't need to be). Not sure I'd hang them on my wall, but they are interesting to see. There are lots of different themes and images in the next-to-last print shown here. Fun to extrapolate possible influences on the artist.