Ellie Balk, Jaime Gatelos showcase work

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

The works of two native St. Louis artists, Ellie Balk, currently residing in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jaime Gatelos, now of Chicago, are being exhibited through Sept. 30 at the Mad Art Gallery, 2727 South 12th Street at Lynch. Of the 24 works on exhibit, half are by Balk, who is from a Jewish American background, half are by Gatelos, who has Greek and Irish ethnic roots, and two works are unique collaborations in which both artists worked on the same canvases.

The exhibit showcases the works of two highly gifted artists, who have contrasting approaches to their work, and are yet able to fuse their sensibilities in their two joint works, “Collaboration I” and “Collaboration II.”

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Ellie Balk, 32, who has lived and worked in Brooklyn for the past five years, returned to her home town for her first local showing since 2003. She is a graduate of Parkway North High School, and of Bowling Green University with a BFA in painting and received her Master’s in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in Painting.

“I really did not show much interest in painting as a child,” Balk told the Light. “My Mom, Fran Balk and my sister Debby are visually creative and my brother, Tom is a chef, so these creative members of my family influence me, and my dad, Bob Balk has encouraged my work. I had an excellent art teacher at Parkway North named Bob, who first encouraged me to find my artistic energy, and my real interest started then.”

At her 2003 exhibit, Balk displayed her talents in interactive installations, pieces with drawers made with found objects. “I like to take art down from the pedestal and to encourage viewers to interact with it,” Balk said. One such piece, “On the Drawers,” is among those in her current show. “I got away from these pieces after my friends warned me of the bed bug epidemic in New York, and discouraged me from using discarded furniture from the street for my work,” Balk said.

“My work and creative energies are focused in three areas,” Balk said. “My own individual work remains important; I also do a lot of collaborative work, such as working with Jaime on the works in this exhibit and in New York, and finally there is my teaching.”

Balk works collaboratively with Brooklyn public middle schools in creating murals and public art installations. She works with Rotunda Gallery in Brooklyn, and has received numerous grants to pursue her mission to use paint as a tool to bring together the community. “I enjoy using my art to express my individual creativity, and also to bring people together to fuse and combine their creative energies,” Balk said.

Balk’s work can be seen on St. James and Gates Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and at Vanderbilt and DeKalb Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Upcoming mural projects are in the works for the Upper East Side in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. She currently works in a cramped studio in her Brooklyn apartment. “I tend to use acrylics because it is easier to work with and contain, as opposed to oil.”

Balk said she enjoyed working collaboratively with Gatelos. “His approach is very different from mine. He is very disciplined and uses the five tools of painting, working with oils. I’m into letting paint be paint. He tends to scrape down the layers of paint, and I prefer to build it out. Yet, we were able to work simultaneously on our two collaborative pieces and we are both pleased with the final result.”

Gatelos agreed, pointing out that noted artists of the past, such as Van Gogh and Gauguin and Picasso and Braque often painted the same people or objects or subjects. “What Ellie and I did was to literally work on the same canvas to jointly produce these works.”

Many of Ellie Balk’s individual paintings make use of vivid colors and vibrant shapes that suggest living things, such as trees, plants, vines, leaves and birds. These themes are especially evident in a large canvas called “Underneath” and a smaller one called “Underneath Brooklyn.” In these works, Balk demonstrates considerable skill as a colorist, bringing to mind the bold contrasting colors of the works of Chagall.

Balk also produces visually stunning prints, containing geometric themes in black, white and gray. A set of four prints, called “Concentric Chaos” repeats the visual theme of a dinner plate as the central object, with whorls surrounding it. The effect combines the controlled space of the smaller canvases and the suggestion of circular, clockwise motion surrounding the stationary plate. Balk creates the sensation of motion both in her colorful paintings and in her technically precise prints. Both of her contrasting and overlapping themes are evident in the Mad Art Studio exhibit.

Among Balk’s personal favorite artists, whose work has influenced and inspired hers are Bassiat, Squeak Carnath of California and the earlier works of Dana Phelps of New York. “Painting is both a way for the artist to express him or herself, and it is also a means of bringing together two or more people whose combined work has even more energy than the individual pieces.”

The exhibit is arranged with the “Collaboration #1” and “Collaboration #2” paintings on which both Balk and Gatelos worked in effect “bookending” the wall containing Balk’s works and another wall containing Gatelos’s works.

Gatelos, 39, has a five-year relationship with Mad Art Gallery, a venue located in a former St. Louis Police Department station. Gatelos has had two previous painting shows at the venue, the staging of the rock opera “Onward Broken Spaceman” by his band the Moscows, and the Mad Art Radio Show, which he both co-wrote and starred in. Before leaving St. Louis last April, Jaime painted most of his work in his Cherokee Street apartment/studio, completing work in Chicago.

Both Balk and Gatelos are highly gifted artists, and St. Louisans should take advantage of the opportunity to see their two bodies of work separately, and the two collaborative paintings, described as “the result of two minds coming together in one space, on one plane, a rare collaboration and an experiment of the two artists’ passion for painting and the explosion of synergy.” The exhibit more than measures up to this accurate description.

(“New Paintings and Collaborations” by Jaime Gatelos and Ellie Balk will be on exhibit through Sept. 30. For more information and hours, contact the Mad Art Gallery, 2727 South 12th Street at Lynch; 314-771-8230.)