About 40 years ago, when Spokane artist Harold Balazs was recuperating in the hospital from an injury, he had with him some Japanese accordion-fold sketchbooks. And in one of those sketchbooks, he sketched a fake “family album” – images, sometimes outlandish, of a family that wasn’t his.
“I was making a photograph album that everybody keeps and I was reflecting on, you take pictures of the bear you shot, and you take pictures of your new car, and all those things,” he said.
For the most part, those pen-and-ink drawings stayed private. For the most part.
“I’d wake up on the middle of the night and the nurses would be leafing through the book to see what I’d drawn now,” said Balazs, who at the time was an established artist. “It did attract attention.”
The style he was going for, Balazs said, was in the vein of Edward Gorey, whose work famously opened “Mystery!” on PBS. Still, except for a reported sighting on the Balazs family Christmas card one year, the drawings have been little seen, until now. “I did all these snarky drawings … and I’ve had them all these years,” Balazs said.
Last year, Balazs and his wife, Rosemary, were talking about how to get the drawings out into the broader world. She came with the idea to ask Dirk Stratton to create captions for the drawings and release a book through his small publishing house.
Stratton – the significant other of the Balazs’ daughter, Andrea – has previously written haiku, the Japanese poetry form that features three lines of five, seven and five syllables. Stratton took the two dozen illustrations and created words written in the haiku style to go with them.
“He created some of the craziest haikus that really augmented the pictures,” Balazs said. “It couldn’t have been better.”
The images go on display tonight at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, and are featured in a limited edition book, “The Family Album,” with Stratton’s accompanying haiku.
Stratton and Balazs decided to create a limited run of 500 copies of the book to sell, through Stratton’s I-Beam Books. They’ll be available at Boo Radley’s in downtown Spokane and the Art Spirit, and online at http://i-beambooks.com/. They retail for $50 a copy.
Balazs, whose large-scale sculpture can be found throughout the region, also creates works in enamel, and has painted murals in the past. Stratton doesn’t see “The Family Album” as being too far afield of Balazs’s typical work.
“I think of Harold as primarily a sculptor, and I think a book is a sculptural project, actually,” Stratton said. “You have an arrangement in space of various artistic objects, and combined they make a three-dimensional object that is, as far as I’m concerned, a sculptural thing. It shows Harold is a great person with a pen and ink, but I think behind it, he’s still a sculptor. I like being able to bring another one of his sculptures, a different type of sculpture perhaps, into the world.”
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