Artist Study: Roger Ballen, Photographer/Sculptor

11 - 28 - 19


Going through my second year research journal I stumbled across an old essay I wrote on Roger Ballen, a staple influence from my second year. I unpicked, removed large parts, kept some quotes and works and have revised my critique of Ballen below with some accompanying artist studies.


(Left to right): Threat, 2011, Serpent Lady, 2009 and

Repentance, 2010 - all taken from Ballen's Asylum Series.



One of the driving forces behind my first steps into sculpture and the less controlled, cave-like mark making, Ballen continues to influence my own practice, both physical and theoretical, albeit in a different way than it did last year.


Admittedly my inspiration and regard for Roger Ballen has shifted from the initial awe and almost ‘fanboy’ approach I took in year 2 with some of my earlier year work in Winter 2018. I have also moved past the photographic aspect of Ballen's work, taking forward his regard for roughness of form, his sense for one's internal void and how his work brings one inward rather than external.


I was drawn to the work of Christopher Wool this year also (the main subject of my thesis or MCP) for similar reasons this year; Wools regard for bringing the viewer inward with his photography is where the crossover between the two artists occurs I believe, comparing the works one can notice a similar regard for anti aesthetic, simply viewed through a slightly different lense.

For example, the two works above, (left) Wool’s ‘Beverly Hills, March 8, 2006’ and Ballens ‘Boarding House’ could be from the same shoot, Wool’s being a detailed study of some of Ballens line work. When it comes to photography however Wool's regard for anti aesthetic presentation shifts somewhat with his intentional 'deskilling' of the camera itself with use of under-exposure, blown out whites and motion-blur. This is contrasted with the way Ballen shoots the evironments/sets/sculptures he arranged, being hsot with a far more measured, almost static hand.




Robert JC Young [On Ballen’s photography]:

‘[it is] “unreal”, it no longer offers a mimetic representation of the actual, yet everything it portrays is real enough. Too real. Too close to something inside.’ (Ballen, 2013).



Although the slightly vacuous phrase ‘too real’ seemed unhelpful on first reading during my 2nd year, I felt it important to note as a quote due to the fact that I was put in mind of Freud's writings on the ‘uncanny’. Although clunkily written, it touches on the theme present in much of Ballen's work, that of focusing on bringing to light that which should remain hidden. A major theme of my own practice during this Unit and going forward throughout my third year work, is the consideration for what is hidden or intangible but that which still demands to by sensed.


In my previous year I recognised the running motif of theatre and ritual to Ballen’s practice and ‘set dressing/sculpture dressing’, particularly in reference to his series Asylum (see works above). The titled implies a hopeful despair, a knowledge of a better future whilst experiencing a place of such pain and conflict.


This ambiguity is something I still strive to reflect in my own work however, since year two, this has transitioned in earnest to my exploring of a far less defined, a move away from the more figurative sketch style (with the exception of Up There, 2019). I aim to create a dynamism to the work in contrast to the intentionally monotonous tone to the work from 2018-19, achieving this through a more considered approach to the media I use alongside careful studies of artists hands, beginning with Ballen:




(From left to right):

I: Study of details from Ballen's 'Mourning' (2012). I find myself having to still 'unlearn' school teachings of being either true to life or planning to the point of artificiality - I pursued this series of sketches to help 'unlearn' some of that.


II: Details taken from 'Hanged' (2009)


III: A study of Roger Ballen's 'Faces'. Studiesused as a practice for more free form automatic mark making I try to achieve with my works.



IV: Study of Ballen's 'cross guy' (also) figure details in 'Repentance' (2010) Noticing a similarity to Hayao Miyazaki's design for the 'paper people' or 'Shikigami' I similarly interpret the form of them as representative of both spirits and objects of use.


V: Detail study of 'Look Alike' (2012).


VI: Detail study of 'Repentence' (2010)





Ballen, R. (2013). Lines, Marks and Drawings, Through the Lens of Roger Ballin. Munich:

DelMonico Books, pp.8, 9, 11, 14.

























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