Over the Horizon 

Local artists Chris Palmer and Andras Bality both incorporate the horizon in their work, with very different results.

Using wood blocks as plates, the artist passes his pages through a press many times to make dense layers of color and grain patterns. The dominant horizon is completely flat, yet Palmer suggests not only deep space but landscape elements such as cloud formations, vegetation or water, with earthy or skylike colors and by the direction he orients the printed wood grain.

As in his "Center of Field" where a purple sky running horizontally hovers above a gold field with a vertical grain suggesting plant life shooting upward, the patterns we know in nature are immediately recognizable by Palmer's simple gestures. These meditative compositions conjure primal themes.

In contrast to the slow and quiet planes of Palmer's prints are the active images of Andras Bality's oil paintings. People and animals move in them; so do light and shadow. In fact, while Bality's paintings are usually sprinkled with figures caught in the act of moving, dappled light and shadow often figure as much or more predominantly as compositional components. In every case, Bality's territory — earth, sky and everything in between — is macrocosmic.

In the tradition of 20th-century realists such as Fairfield Porter and Edward Hopper, Bality abstracts his environments and exaggerates voids in some cases and density in others, to build places charged with tension. In "Flat," figures are lost within the surrounding openness, but in "Sandwich" the figures swim in an ocean of towering buildings and other sources of urban stimulation. But the tension is a source of curiosity rather than fatalism. Seldom are we as remote from our own surroundings as we are from the subjects here, and when we are, we tend to hone in on the particular rather than the general. Bality's distant vantage point imparts a godly perspective that the viewer will feel compelled to observe.

In these 12 paintings all produced this year, Bality continues to explore the relationship of people and the world that surrounds them. The artist's imagery has typically featured big space that nearly swallows diminutive figures. New to Bality's repertoire in this exhibition are larger canvases in which the scale of his figures remains the same while the quantity of area expands. Whether this change signals an increase in artistic confidence or a larger studio, it can only boost an already strong body of work.

Years in its evolution, the ever-present quality in Bality's work is his precarious relationship with knowledge. The tension between innocence, as expressed in skewed perspectives and highly simplified representations of figures, and experience, as seen in Bality's philosophical point of view, and his sophisticated use of compositional tools and color, still resonates with these paintings, large or small, and sets them apart not only as highly personal but truly engaging. S

"Imitations" by Andras Bality and "Wooden Blocks: a series of printed images" by Chris Palmer are on display at 1708 Gallery, 319 W. Broad St., through Oct. 26. Call 643-1708 for information.


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