Alum makes dizzy, intricate mixed media without a technological crutch

By Connor Rice

DeKalb | NIU alumnus John Balsley has found his way from the studio and the garden back to his alma mater.

The artist currently has an exhibition entitled “In the Studio and In the Garden” on display in the NIU Art Museum. The series, composed of various collage and sculpture work, is, like all of Balsley’s work, meant to serve as a challenge to the artist.

“I like to make each thing I make more difficult,” he said. “I don’t like to make things easy.”

It certainly doesn’t look easy; Balsley’s intricate and detailed work must have required years of developing patience and focus to create such staggering visuals. Unabashedly drawing on his influences (pop art, abstract expressionism, etc.), Balsley’s work in “In the Studio and In the Garden” manages to tie together thematic forms of self-portrait into dizzying and noisy mixed media. 

As art is want to do, the exhibition’s pieces, such as the metalwork sculpture “Fallen,” give us insight into Balsley’s view of himself and his place in the world. His collages (“Concealed Damage,” “My Vacation”) all seem to portray him as a man locked in an individual cage, keeping him separated from other figures within the frame and implying themes of isolation and disconnection.   

This show in particular signifies an attempt by Balsley to utilize technology in a manner that did not inhibit creative work, but still retain the streamlined ease absent from more “primitive” forms of expression. He feels that technology, when used for its convenience rather than as a crutch, has it’s place as a tool in art.

“It’s the image,” he said. “Not what you’re using to get there.”