Born in 1955, Jack Balas was raised on the south side of Chicago, where he started to paint watercolor landscapes in highschool. Studying architecture and design his first two years in college at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he wound up with a graduate degree in sculpture from Northern Illinois University, whereupon he moved to Los Angeles for several years and resumed painting. Landing a cross-country truck-driving job for an art-shipping company, he spent five years driving a month-on, month-off route between San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Chicago and New York, schlepping art between artists and galleries, museums and collectors, at the same time photographing and writing about the places he was driving through. Long influenced by such travel, he has talked about the subsequent paintings as maps or diaries or arenas linking visual and verbal, conceptual and material, fact and fiction, abstraction and representation; not to mention a blend of styles and a viewer building bridges between disparate ideas and iconographies.
While those concerns have remained constant since those years, nowadays the male figure has come to the forefront as muse and subject, on the heels of a decades-long project photographing men, as well as a stint teaching painting and figure drawing at the University of Arizona. Of these men Balas says: “My goal is to present them as everyman, reaching beyond the fleeting surface idealization associated with youth and hopefully going far in terms of metaphor, poking around such timeless ideas as: truth, beauty, faith, time, the infinite, what we learn and what we know. I see the guys too as eminently malleable, waiting for instructions, stem cells in a way and eager to please. They go off doing guy things in the paintings– political things, religious things, introspective things and full of stories and philosophy, and all the while not giving a crap that the world, let alone the art world, views them as suspect because of their beauty. I put them out there too to counter the prejudice many in the world have felt for centuries in favor of female beauty, still ubiquitous on all fronts in our daily lives. Almost always metaphoric in nature, I want my guys to go beyond objects of desire, to straddle the brawn vs. brains divide and do some heavy mental lifting at the same time that they muscle up. But I put them out there as a fait accompli, denizens of a post-gay world who take everyone’s gaze in stride, male or female, straight or otherwise, going about their business as testimony of a world that has changed and whose change, by being themselves, they have helped to bring about. Ultimately, thus, the work is political. It addresses that big question of what kind of world do you want to live in? I prefer one that is open and honest, where we can all live up to our potential. And if there’s work to be done, we, and hopefully these guys, are up to the job. Better yet, since I do think of them as everyman, they are, simultaneously, already part of us.”
In 1995 Balas was awarded an Individual Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. A portfolio of his paintings “Today I Drove Along the Rio Grande” was published in issue #120 of The Paris Review (New York). His 2008 museum solo project “We’ll Be Seeing You” appeared at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver.