The Art of Stephen Balut

Arts & Culture

Pictured:Stratospheric, Acrylic, Yarn, String, Thread and Nails on canvas. 60" x 48". 2023, by Stephen Balut.

“When I was in graduate school at UT-Austin for architecture, I was taking this drawing class and became obsessed with trying to draw the thinnest, most powerful line that I could draw,” says Stephen Balut. “I found a spool of thread somewhere in my apartment and thought if I could just drape this thread over the paper I could achieve my goal and I did–it had a very remarkable power in a small space.”

Fast forward 17 years and Balut, now a full-time architect and Studio Director for MHK Architecture’s Sarasota office, is still playing with string. Only now, Balut does it in a much more complex, nuanced way. An architect by day and artist by night, Balut has been developing a series of paintings called String Theory, some of which are now showing at the State of the Arts Gallery in downtown Sarasota. Balut’s paintings operate in the world of abstraction–painted canvases are strategically wrapped in up to 50 layers of differently colored string or yarn, creating a three dimensional piece of scaleless complexity. Many of the paintings are inspired by the colors and environment of the Gulf Coast. Some, like Siesta Strings evoke infinite seascapes, while others like Wisping Ether are a reaction to Balut’s experience of last year’s Hurricane Ian.

“I use anything that is tensile to wrap my canvases–from various yarns to kite string to fine threads to monofilament–which is what artists call fishing line because I suppose fishing line doesn’t sound cool enough,” says Balut with a chuckle. “Not only do the compositions become deep and rich with complexity and color, but when you light them properly there are thread shadows that appear on the canvas and create an even further level of depth that is quite subtle and powerful at the same time.”

The product that Balut creates now is the result of years of laborious experimentation. The paintings themselves are so vastly detailed that they can take weeks at a time to create. By expertly layering string and acrylic paint, Balut can achieve a subtle version of the lenticular effect–one piece can appear quite different when viewed from a 45 degree angle as opposed to straight on. Despite how labor intensive and complex his art can be, Balut is still drawn to creating, time and time again. “I love the feeling of when I finish a painting,” says Balut. “There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction that comes from creating something beautiful.”

State of the Arts Gallery, 1525 State St, 941-955-2787.

 

Pictured:Stratospheric, Acrylic, Yarn, String, Thread and Nails on canvas. 60" x 48". 2023, by Stephen Balut.

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