Mixed media artist Myrna Balk is exhibiting at Boston’s Piano Craft Gallery (5/5-5/28, opening reception 5/7, 3-6 PM, artist discussion 5/21, 3 PM) in Connecting the Dots, encompassing 50 years of her artistic output.
Here, she discusses the exhibition, how a life of social work affected her art, and highlights and surprises from 50 years of working in clay, steel, wood, etching, and more.
You work in a range of materials and processes. What makes you select one material over another in the creation of a new work?
When I choose a new subject, I instinctively decide on the material I think will work best. There is not much inner conversation. It just feels right. I usually focus on one technique at a time. Other times I feel like working in a specific material, and it is only after it is finished that I know if there is a meaning or not.
How has your career as a social worker impacted your art?
It exposed me to many intense social situations, and these experiences inspired the subject of some of my art. For example, in 1998 I was invited to Kathmandu, Nepal to consult on domestic violence and teach at a school of social work. Once there, I was introduced to the victims of sex trafficking. Because of my experience in working with groups, I was comfortable in meeting with women and girls in seven shelters. I gave them the opportunity to have fun and to draw. I did not expect them to want to tell me their stories and to take their experiences home with me. Thus I was exposed to situations that most people do not encounter, firsthand. This led to my doing my own large body of etchings about trafficking. Eight of them were shown at the United Nations in New York City.
How do you know when your work is done?
When I went from welding to etching it was hard for me to know when something was done. This was because I was not secure with the new material. As I became more confident I let the piece speak for itself and knew when it was finished.
Your exhibition at the Piano Craft Gallery is a 50 year retrospective. Any highlights (or lowlights) that stand out from those decades?
At one point, when I was welding, I had 7 unfinished pieces of sculpture. I was stuck on one so started another. When the number got to 7, I was in despair. I just sat in a rocking chair and read in my studio waiting for the ideas to start coming again. Then one day I looked up and there was the piece of steel that would fix one of the unfinished pieces. After that all of the work was finished within a few hours.
What artist do you most admire but work nothing like?
Ben Shahn is at the top of my list of admired artists. Others, in no special order, are Käthe Kollwitz, Anthony Caro, Alice Neel, and Anselm Kiefer.
What’s the most surprising response to your art you’ve ever received?
The most wonderful surprise that I had was Anthony Caro inviting Clement Greenberg to meet me. Greenberg then came to my home to see my work. He was extremely complimentary and encouraged me to continue sculpting.
What do you listen to while you create?
I usually focus on my inner voice. Sometimes I listen to Amy Goodman from the radio program DEMOCRACY NOW. She keeps me up on a lot of the political issues.
What are you currently reading?
Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
How many revisions does your work typically go through?
I do not work and rework my pieces. I work fast and usually am satisfied with the first results. In the case of outdoor installations, the work is meant to be adjusted when it is in a tree or on the ground or in the water.
Myrna Balk: Connecting the Dots
Piano Craft Gallery
May 5-May 28, 2017
Opening reception: May 7, 2017, 3-6 PM
Artist Discussion: May 21, 2017, 3 PM
Images: all images courtesy of the artist.