Almost exactly a year ago, iconic Northwest artist Harold Balazs held court at the opening reception of his 2017 exhibition “One More Time” at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene.
In attendance was the 10-year-old daughter of gallery owner Blair Williams who grew wide-eyed watching patrons and artists mob Balazs. She observed a rush of people lining up to buy the octogenarian’s paintings, sculptures and drawings. The little girl rushed to his side and exclaimed: “Harold, I think you are famous!”
Balazs rolled his eyes with a smile. “Finally,” he said, leaning on his cane with a shaky hand.
Williams believes that same calm and silly response is close to how Balazs, who died at age 89 less than two weeks ago, would feel about his upcoming show.
“I Did It My Way” opens tonight at the Art Spirit Gallery and runs through Feb. 2. The exhibit will feature more than 130 pieces representing the seven decades of Balazs’ work, including new paintings from 2017. Enamels, paintings, drawings, sculpture and mixed media assemblages will be on display.
“I think if we could ask him now about his upcoming show, he would just smile and say, ‘Great, whatever,’ ” Williams said. “Meanwhile, the rest of us are waving our arms and jumping up and down asking the world why Harold is not recognized to the level he deserves.”
Balazs is an undisputed creative giant in the Pacific Northwest. Since he began his arts journey in the 1950s, he never stopped working. Any sizeable city in the region likely displays Balazs’ abstract metal monuments, enamel murals, lively paintings or concrete reliefs.
From his studio in Mead, Balazs spent more than six decades weaving his art into the Greater Spokane area’s sense of place. From the sculptures that transformed Spokane’s riverfront, including the giant Rotary Fountain, to the dozens of local churches, synagogues, public buildings and parks that incorporate his pieces, Balazs is the prolific godfather of the Spokane/CdA art scene. Local artists would regularly head to “Uncle Harold’s” rustic home on 7 acres along Peone Creek to spend hours with him working, sweating and creating.
“Artists would call him up and say, ‘How’s your day going?’ and he’d say he was depressed because he only got six pieces of art done,” Williams chuckled. “They’d be like ‘Are you kidding me? I got one sketch done today!’ ”
To discuss Balazs’ work, a panel of close friends and local artists will convene at Art Spirit Gallery at 1 p.m. Saturday. The event is free and open to the public. The artists on the panel include painter Mel McCuddin, glass artist Steve Adams, and sculptors Ken Spiering and Alan and Mary Dee Dodge.
Williams planned the panel for the show a year ago, to relieve Balazs of the responsibility of talking so much as his health was failing. All the panelists are still somewhat in mourning, Williams said. In addition to discussing the works, attendees may hear personal anecdotes about how funny, endearing and generous the late artist was.
“I’m sure the discussion will morph into a kind of memorial, but it will be a celebration,” Williams said. “I hope that people will take away from this exhibit that while this is the end of the work (of Balazs) being produced, this is not the end of the story.”