There are excellent paintings on the walls in the group show at the Henri II Gallery (Connecticut Avenue and T Street NW) but the environment belongs to sculptor John Balsley, a young artist from the Midwest who demonstrates uncanny ability to combine whimsey and horror in the strangely compelling men and machines that he builds.
Balsley is one of the most vital and inventive realist sculptors that I've seen in some time. A loose approximation of reference points for the work would be a heretofore inconceivable union of the spirits and to some extent even the techniques of Jean Tinguely and Edward Keinholz. Like that of Keinholz, Balsley's world is sharply pointed, imbedded in social reality, and intensely real. And like the works of Tinguely, Balsley's machines are improbable and even impossible, being made up of a fanciful assortment of junk. Unlike those of the Frenchman, Balsley's machines do not move and they seem at first glance to be the real, depicted thing.
Balsley's static works do seem to move, however. A tyical subject has to do with a moment in time, a motorcyclist, and his cycle balanced improbably at the point of or just before a violent and fatal impact with the earth. The completion of the event is impending, inevitable, and immediately understood.
The whimsey of this artist is a special kind, sharp and occasionally hurtingly funny (e.g. the title of the piece illustrated, and the piece itself, but it is of course a different thing from Keinholz' direct involvement with subject matter. For one thing, Balsley's work is about half-life size, an important emotional difference from a walk-in Keinholz tableau. For another, there is that "Tinguely" element, that purifying distance and cool wit. It is an improbable balance, but it exists. An exciting, together show.