Artist embraces the grotesque side of aesthetic

If you find Aaron  Balavram’s artwork grotesque, you’re not alone. He finds it that way himself.

Mr. Balavram, 24, of Redcliffe Avenue, will stage a show of his paintings starting at 7 p.m. Friday and continuing all night Friday at the Court Tavern on Church Street in New Brunswick. The show is built principally around two pieces, “No One Dies” and “With the Right Medicine”; and, yes, they are grotesque.

“No One Dies” is the oldest piece in the set, having originated about five years ago when Mr. Balavram was fixated on skulls and experimenting with new artistic techniques he was learning. The original skull remains visible under the other layers of the painting, along with other layers of flesh in the face, from the teeth in their sockets, to a giant unlidded eye, to the brain itself, in which folds appear the title of the painting.

“It’s meant to be transparent without having any holes,” he said. “It just turns out to be very ghostly and grotesque, which I love.”

Mr. Balavram is an established figure in the Highland Park arts scene, particularly among the parents of budding artists. He’s been a regular fixture at the Academy of Art of Highland Park since he started taking lessons there in 2004, moving up the ranks eventually to become full-time paid staff member. He is now a full-time senior instructor and general manager.

The paintings in the show are products of his time at the art academy, if no other reason than the dedicated time the academy provides on Thursday nights for its staff to create, often is the only chance he has to work on his original creations.

“No One Dies” is an arresting picture, painted with warm red colors and filling the entire canvas. A staple of visual art is to divide the canvas into three portions and to place the subject off-center. “No One Dies” ignores this rule.

Instead of drawing the viewer’s eye to one side or another, the subject of “No One Dies” fills the entire canvas and stares straight out at the viewer with an empty socket and an oversize eyeball. As a result, it demands attention. Look away, and you still will feel the picture drawing you back for another look.

“It was supposed to make you uncomfortable,” said Mr. Balavram. “It’s meant to fill the whole thing, put it right in front of your face. Forced confrontation.”

With “No One Dies” on one end of the show, another picture of a brain, bookends the other end, this time containing the words “With the Right Medicine.” The effect is to turn the entire show into an artistic treatment of how we process the world and understand it.

“With the Right Medicine” is a three-canvas work depicting a bottle of an unspecified brown liquid, presumably alcoholic, pouring onto a disembodied brain. Below the brain dance figures resembling a man and a woman. In contrast to the earlier piece, this one is depicted in cold colors like purple and a blue as deep as the night.

In-between are other images:  a meditating figure with a giant eye for a head, a free-floating eye cupped in a pair of hands making the shape of a heart. The running theme of mind, perception and observation is something deliberate, the result of a creative process like making a concept album.

But why does it mean? And what is the right medicine that will save you?

“That’s kind of up to the viewer,” said Mr. Balavram. “It’s not really claiming that this will save you. I’m offering the option of physical and emotional vices. You want to choose the one that people will remember you for.”


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