Balmer in his
Balmer, a native South African who has made New York his home since 2000, has found in the city an ideal subject and muse—the inspiration for gritty, luminous cityscapes and
for new approaches to his art.
Skyscrapers huddle on Balmer’s canvases, painted
as if from a great height, an invented vantage point from
which light is abundant and horizons are visible. In
contrast to the rigid and austere forms of his subjects,
Balmer’s depictions are highly impressionistic, his lines
sketchy and playful, and he treats towering structures
as “characters ... a bit like people.” His palette, which
Balmer says is informed primarily by his moods, favors
the oranges, reds and golds of sunset, and predawn blues.
Balmer’s work contains stylistic echoes of a range of
artists, from Paul Klee to abstract expressionists such
as Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, but it most
readily evokes the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Like Basquiat, whom Balmer
acknowledges as an influence,
Balmer summons New York’s
pentimento of advertising, graf-fiti and worn surfaces, using wayward lines and layered pigment.
The painter, who makes a point
of photographing textures that
catch his eye on his walks through
the city, introduces texture to his
paintings through a con-
tinual process of addition
and subtraction. He uses
a Dremel rotary tool fitted with a
small, circular bit—a tool that, by its nature, introduces
a degree of welcome imprecision—to etch grooves into
the initial gesso coat, painting the canvas black after-
ward. He then applies oil paint with brushes, palette
knives and rollers before using a disc sander to break
up “anything that’s too rigid or too straight or too con-
trolled.” He repeats the process, going back and painting
over the sanded surfaces.