INVENTED LIGHT – Essay by Ashraf Jamal
Three painters have proved to be Aldo Balding’s greatest inspiration, the American John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the Swede Anders Zorn (1860-1920), and the Spaniard Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). What is so striking is how their life spans coincide – they belong to the same age, marred at its core by the ‘Great War’ the shocking consequence of which, as the anthropologist James Clifford put it, would make the Western world permanently surreal. While Sargent, Zorn, and Sorolla were undoubtedly affected by the war, their art seems to hold fast to a time before such brutal emotional and psychological devastation. They remained, first and foremost, great painters of the inner workings of human beings. Capturing the truth of a being in an instant required a deft and rapid touch. As Sorolla remarked, ‘I could not paint at all if I had to paint slowly. Every effect is so transient, it must be rapidly painted’. The most verbally articulate of Balding’s three great influences, Sorolla also scathingly added that ‘when an artist begins to count strokes instead of regarding nature he is lost’. And it is this acute ‘regard’ for the natural world – a world shaped profoundly by the human psyche – which Balding has placed at the epicentre of his process. However to attain this depth of understanding of what it means to be human also requires an artistic challenge, the capturing of the seemingly impossible – Light.
Light is at the core of Balding’s paintings, a light as visceral as it is psychological and metaphoric, a light which illuminates the world and banishes darkness. This seduction – the seduction of light – is also central to the work of all Balding’s inspirational artists. Without light, life is hollowed out, plunged into darkness. Without light, after Immanuel Kant, we cannot know ourselves, know others. The pursuit of light, therefore, is the reason for the artist’s journey. The quest for light is the artist’s emotional and ethical crux. Therefore to ‘know’ Aldo Balding’s paintings is to know the workings of light. Gaze upon any of Balding’s paintings and what immediately comes to the fore is a light through which we recognise a sentient strength, a spirited well-being, a sense of a world which, while fragile and stalked by threat, always harbours goodness and grace. As the American poet A.R. Ammons noted in his great poem ‘Corson’s Inlet’: ‘Risk is full, every living thing in siege / the demand is life / to keep life’. It is this principle and will which inspires Balding. And like Claude Monet and Joaquin Sorrolla he is well aware of the challenges that confront him in his attempt to cherish all that is sentient and good about life. As Monet once remarked, painting does not contain enough light. Sorolla concurred, stating that ‘We painters … can never reproduce light as it really is. We can only approach the truth of it’.
Key to Sorolla’s drive is aspiration: one aspires towards a truth; one finds the means in-and-through painting as an inspirational act to capture that ever-evasive and tantalising truth. It is this very quest that has defined Aldo Balding’s vocation. He is a man in search of what it means to be human – the enigmatic soul that gives us our personhood, the trust which like an electrical force-field brings two beings together. Speed in the making of a painting is key to the capturing of these elusive qualities; speed key to the harvesting of the most essential ingredient for the creation of this quest – light – a matter as present as it is insubstantial. It is therefore invented light that becomes the artist’s core obsession. And here what is particularly striking about Balding’s understanding of and application of light is how elemental-yet-secular that understanding and use of light is. We see no stench of the church, no divine afterglow. Rather, Balding’s use of light as a medium and a message is all too human. No sacred aura enfolds his beings; it is a beautiful and singular humanity that matters.
Aldo Balding was born and raised in the United Kingdom and currently lives in Castelnaudary in the South of France. He started off his career as an illustrator before moving to France to become a full-time artist. He is represented by a number of galleries around the world, in countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, France and South Africa.
There is a narrative element to Balding’s work in which he sets up scenarios, with no specific outcome, leaving it up to the viewer to determine what is going on. He believes that the way a person holds their body can say more about their feelings and intentions, than words. His subtle use of space distortion creates a sense that something is amiss or is about to happen. Similar talents were shown by the great black and white movie filmmakers, (like Hitchcock) and there is a sense that many of his pictures could be stills from a movie. Balding considers himself a storyteller, he takes an idea and moulds it to his liking; furthermore, the colours, the figures, the scenery, are all adjusted for the viewer based on what he wants them to see.
Living in the South of France, he likes to paint in direct sunlight. He prefers to be “stingy” in colour tones, using no more than five or six at any one time. The work normally has a predominant tone or key to it, usually in the mid or dark range. This means that more than 50 percent of the canvas is occupied by one or two closely related tones; this method has been used by great artists such as, Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn and Munnings. Balding considers himself a tonalist painter, though colour is another tool he likes to employ to influence mood. He looks for colour harmonies that already exist in the subject. He squints a lot when painting and this helps him to simplify everything, see things within a hierarchy – the sharpest edge, the lightest part, the order of things that he is searching for.
His inspiration, ideas and subject matter can originate from something he has seen- a man in a café, a woman crossing a street; or it can be an idea he has set up, where he has used a model, wearing something from his collection of clothes ranging from the 1940’s to the present day. The models act out an idea in his studio or on location rather than pose formally, which he then photographs during the ideas stage. He works quickly spending almost as much time on the set-up and ideas as the painting itself. A mid-sized painting normally takes between 2 to 3 days in an ‘alla prima’* style as he tries to work sections at a time to keep the ** ‘wet-in-wet’ technique.