Balbo Searches for A Second Moon at the Morgan

Tom Balbo, Settling Into Night (1-3), pulp painting

The Moon has captivated people for centuries, as myths pertaining to the celestial body are found in every culture. It continued to capture the imagination of nations during the space race and Moon landings of last century and remains both a scientific, astrological, and artistic point of inspiration. This is the case for Tom Balbo in his exhibition, In Search of a Second Moon, at the Morgan Conservatory. On view from September 24th through October 9th, the exhibition pulls together an extensive body of hand-made paper works created by Balbo since the beginning of the pandemic.

Tom Balbo, Sun Lake Dawn 5, pigment, abaca, cotton

Balbo, artistic director and founder of the Morgan Conservatory, spent his time in the studio during the pandemic producing a large body of work dealing with isolation and the desire to search for a deeper meaning. “I did these pieces with a moon,” Balbo says, “and I tried to make it more poetic. You’re in search of something else during Covid times. They can have a lot of double meanings, like another world.” They can also speak to the passage of time, as in Setting into Night 1 – 3, and Sun Lake Dawn 5. The Setting into Night series of works give the viewer a sense of time passing through three separate works in which the Moon changes position against the night sky. Sun Lake Dawn 5, on the other hand give the impression of being stuck in time, as the movement of the rising sun appears to be glitched, reflecting on how our experience of time had changed during stay-at-home orders.

Tom Balbo, Storm Recede, flax, abaca, cotton

“There are pieces that are storm related,” Balbo explains. One such piece is Storm Recede that depicts a landscape that appears to be set ablaze with dark clouds hanging in the sky. The two moons, one fully visible, the other peaking above the fire-filled horizon, offer a respite from the hot embers on the ground. Technique and media are masterfully used to create the landscape aesthetic, using pigmented pulp fiber, abaca, and cotton with different densities and thicknesses much like applying paint.

Tom Balbo, In Search of a Second Moon, Installation View

There’s often a sense of chaos and tranquility, even within the same works. Other pieces are more organized and structured, with geometric shapes that interact with organic forms. Of paper making, Balbo says, “You have technique, you have skills, you have sensibilities, and you have the luck of the draw.” His process is well-controlled, laying in different tones and colors like action painting. “I have always allowed the process to dictate the work.” There’s some automatism of the subconscious mixed with more deliberate control.

Tom Balbo, In Search of a Second Moon, Installation View

The ceramic pieces on display are from a previous body of work, but their forms tie into the Moon theme of the exhibition. Other sections of the exhibition explore psychedelic marbling techniques using potassium bichromate. “These are much more fun,” Balbo explains, “there’s a whole different attitude with them. They are an escape from the worries of the day to day.” Balbo also presents laminated paper collages that recall Dada. They are often absurdist escapes from the seriousness of the times. Together, the multiple series of work have an otherworldly feel to them, almost a disconnect from reality, which is exactly how the pandemic feels, a surreal moment in time as we search for our new moon.


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