Frank Balve’s visual language is explicit. Its overall tone is dark, its articulation clear, and its effect disturbing. Balve designs his images with paint, he builds them of stone or paper, he stages them for the camera, and he encapsulates them in language. In site- specific installations – often of museum-scale – he combines his works, creating spaces of experience with which the viewer must engage both physically and mentally with all his/her senses. The program of these theatrically conceived spaces – in the sense of Michael Fried – ranges from current social issues, such as the police state or the role of media, and violent and oppressive scenarios to surreal nightmarish scenes based on the artist’s personal memories. Frank Balve’s works are often inspired by literary works, from Dante to the Marquis de Sade, by mythological and biblical stories, and by masterpieces of classical painting, which he appropriates in a process of uninhibited analysis and translates in his own visual language.

The aesthetics of the material is of particular and central importance in the works of Frank Balve, who, in 2009, began his studies at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in the ceramics class of Norbert Prangenberg. For his “Paper Sculptures” the artist developed a procedure of spraying finely chopped pulp – in as many as 100 layers – onto found or built objects. Difficult to categorize, the porous consistency of these surfaces is reminiscent of calcification, ash and fossils; it obscures the original structure and appeals strongly to the visual and tactile sense. The observer’s attention is deliberately directed to the semantics of the material. The same is true of the recurring use of industrially produced tiles, with their specific connotations of coolness, hardness, sterility and cleanliness. These elements experience a shift in emphasis, depending on whether they are dirty, broken or are carefully laid out. The treatment and effect of paint also play a prominent role in the Balve’s “Conceptual Paintings”. Monochrome colors usually serve as the background in his large-format panel paintings. They are covered with multiple layers of abstract splashes and drips, which the artist applies using his hand in a performative act of throwing, thereby orchestrating the canvas through movement. The contrast of the extensive surfaces of house paint and the organic, plastic structure of acrylic paint produces a relief-like impression. Moreover, Balve provokes targeted processes of transformation by mixing paint: over time, some paint peels off and cracks form in the dried lakes of paint that are reminiscent of the crackling in the oil paintings of the Old Masters. Deconstruction is a fundamental principle in Balve’s work.

Sounds are created and then distorted beyond recognition, and video images are superimposed in such large numbers that the original content is no longer recognizable or images are slowed down to such an extent that they become almost immobile frozen “video paintings”. Spaces are constructed and then fragmented. Balve’s working process is characterized by a strong performative component and often has aggressive or destructive features, and is marked by a physical force or even violence. Balve’s pictorial reference to classic paintings must also be understood in relation to its production process. Through his intentional throwing of paint and dividing up of the canvas, the initial positive-seeming appropriation of the model also attains features of a violent debate or even of parricide. The artist does not appear in the spontaneous act of painting itself as an expressive genius, but rather as a performer and producer, whose actions follow a specific plan that is reflected in the structure of the works.

A central strategy in Frank Balve’s work consists in how showcase situations are created behind fences, peepholes or performances behind glass. The viewer is locked out, relegated to his/her voyeuristic role of spectator or observer and, thus, to him- or herself. Similar to his accessible spaces, which physically oppress through their use of light, sound and images and their eerie atmosphere, here too the viewer – even as an outsider – does not remain aloof but, rather, is trapped in a state of emotional anxiety and intellectual confusion, which lingers far after the period of observation. Despite their formal heterogeneity, Frank Balve’s works follow a coherent aesthetic conception, whose art-historical range spans from Marcel Duchamp’s viewer-related installation Etant donnés to American action painting to Gregor Schneider’s psychophysical space, Totes Haus ur. Although the artist’s paintings, photographs, sculptures, performances and films can be regarded as independent works, they also function as parts of a multilayered, comprehensive concept. They are linked by numerous recurring formal elements and motifs, which both unite and create a cosmos of symbols in which the generation of meaning is in a constant state of flux: tiled cubicles with showerheads, dilapidated spaces, nudity, accumulations of video monitors, encrusted wheelchairs. Balve uses an allusion-rich, often ambiguous imagery that is based on a private iconography, one that always demands the active participation of the viewer in the production of meaning.

Susanna C. Ott (SO)