Allan Balisi appropriates what he calls “abandoned memories” in People I Don’t Know & Places I’ve Never Been. The solo show, composed of ink drawings and a single large canvas, isolates details from vintage photographs and presents them without context. Floating against white space is the back of a head, a handshake, or a diamond window grille surrounded by an emptiness that begs to be filled. The composition mimics the imperfect human brain prone to obsessing over a sliver of a scene, sometimes at the expense of the panorama. While the majority of the show lingers lovingly over fragments with a macro lens, Balisi does take a step back when depicting a handful of unpeopled buildings and highways.
“The idea of the show is drawing/painting from memory — but not as my memory since all of the works are based on old photographs abandoned by their previous owners. I’d like to focus on memory (rather than what is present or seen) as an entry point of viewing, between looking and thinking, and possibilities of a narrative,” says Balisi.
People I Don’t Know & Places I’ve Never Been explores “the possibility of the image,” a theme that he has tackled in previous exhibitions. By translating photographs of a specific event into ink drawings — at the same time reframing them and erasing the main action — Balisi opens up the opportunity for new narratives to be created by the viewer.
The results possess a slippery familiarity: the spare details, whether in manner of dress or deportment, hint to a vague washed-out sometime and somewhere rendered in spidery lines rising from ink-saturated shadows. “All of these photos are a complete mystery to me and I like adding another level of mystery for the viewer to explore — not to give them a glimpse of the past but to provide them room for meaning,” says Balisi, who is interested in the conversation that takes place in the missing, in how a person looking at his work fills
in the silence.
A single oil painting, Strangely Distant, serves as the show’s centerpiece. The painting depicts anonymous hands reaching across a barrier in order to shake another hand emerging from the sleeve of a suit. These hands, according to Balisi, are synecdochic representations of people attempting to grasp the meaning of an image. “Somewhere in the translation of idea, to articulated thought, to what is understood by the audience — something will be lost,” he says. These statements, preoccupied as they are with interpretation and meaning, reveal his regard for semiotics.
In addition to Strangely Distant, Balisi is presenting some 20 smaller drawings on paper. This is the first time that his drawings have been included in a solo show. Ink, as a medium, is as immediate as it is unforgiving. Ink allows the artist to sketch without the preparatory ritual that attends an oil painting, but a single error demands that the artist begin again. There is no saving a mistake (unless you manage to work it into the piece).
People I Don’t Know & Places I’ve Never Been proves that Balisi’s ability to evoke wistful mystery is independent of medium. Time and again, the bits and pieces he has rescued from photographs and films have elicited a strong emotional response, despite — or because of — the elision of details. People I Don’t Know & Places I’ve Never Been acknowledges the allure of the unsaid and the unshown. — ll