After years of painting in classical style, Charleston-based artist Douglas Balentine felt the need to step away from the work he had been doing.
“So I went out to the beach [Sullivan’s Island, SC], somewhere I hadn’t painted before, except maybe when I was very young,” Balentine said in an interview with Charleston Art Mag. “In classical art you have your verticals and horizontals, structure and geometry, but out there it’s just this big empty space, this expansiveness.”
Many of the works he created, while painting en plein air on Sullivan’s Island, contained images of cargo ships, which he observed “reference something that’s beyond our field of vision. It’s as if to say the painting doesn’t end at the horizon, there’s more there.”
An exhibition of 43 works including studies, sketches, paintings in progress and finished paintings, titled Beyond the Horizon, opens May 30at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum and runs through September 10. Gallery hours for the exhibit are from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 – 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission to the Museum is free but donations are welcome.
“Beyond the Horizon is a retrospective exhibition of Balentine’s work as it pertains to the beach,” says Museum Curator Liz Miller. “Visitors will get a well-rounded view of Balentine’s process, from his initial sketches and studies to finished paintings, one of which was a decade-long project and measures over nine feet long.”
Many of the included works are from distinguished private collections that have never been publicly displayed.
Although born in Charleston, at the age of nine Balentine moved with his family to Paris, France. During the family’s two years there, the young artist-to-be found innumerable stimuli in daily Parisian life – in particular, exposure to art in the world-famous Louvre Museum – which proved to be of lasting inspiration. Balentine went on to study art at Parsons School of Design in New York and the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy.
In the mid-1990s Balentine returned to Charleston, where he found new inspiration in the natural and historic beauty of the area, which he interpreted through the classical principles of his formal studies. This led him to create a more personal direction in his work which he describes as “coming full-circle back to my roots.”
“Through work,” says Balentine, “I came to understand that my interest was in the underlying elemental forces at play which are not just ‘out there,’ but also within. Quiet observation deepens experience of the immense inner-connectedness of everything. Perception is not simply about looking at but connecting with.”
His methodology consisted of placing his easel on the beach facing directly toward the ocean with his gaze directed at the horizon. “The challenge here is that one must confront empty space head on,” Balentine writes in his artist statement. “It is elemental. Earth/Sand. Water/Ocean. Air/Sky. It’s never the same twice. A continuous work in progress. The sand being sculpted by the wind and the tides, the ocean sometimes tranquil and rhythmically hypnotic, sometimes ominously vast and powerful.”
Museum director Patricia Goodwin and Curator Miller were attracted to Balentine’s work when they saw a piece on display at ArtFields, in Lake City, SC, in 2014, Miller recalls. “We knew that we wanted to learn more and once we did, we knew we wanted an exhibition.”