Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Bryan Ballinger


Heather Miller

Whatzup Features Writer

Published March 24, 2016

Heads Up! This article is 6 years old.

Bryan Ballinger is a man who looks at the world through a unique lens. The artist is described by gallery director Bridget O’Riley, as an artist who has the “uncanny ability to capture the beauty and humor in the often overlooked aspects of life.” 

Ballinger’s current showing at O’Riley’s Jennifer Ford Art gallery, brings together a collection of photographs that reflect the wide spectrum that his work spreads across. His series of floral photographs is intricate and uplifting, while other images like that of a small doll once belonging to a child can be chilling and even haunting. 

With his floral works, Ballinger uses images of both fresh and pressed flowers. He breaks these familiar images into fractals and rearranges them into designs reminiscent of what one might see if peering through a kaleidoscope. 

Viewers enjoy his delicately detailed flower parts, which are reorganized and repeated via digital manipulation to create something completely new. Using common images, Ballinger helps the viewer observe what is perhaps mundane in a new way. He prompts thoughts that stem from the familiar to branch out into new directions. 

Ballinger’s ability to capture the delicacy of nature reminds us of the magnificence of our surrounding world. His piece “Crowning Star” most likely attracts viewers with its bold color and brilliant pattern and design. Stepping closer, one realizes that the actual beauty is in the detail. Veins of a flower petal are magnified to crystal clarity that allows one to observe a small sliver of nature with renewed reverence. Even the gnarled mass of wilted flower innards near the center of the piece transmits beauty and elegance. 

Ballinger’s work shines brightly at Jennifer Ford Art, an environment that bathes each piece in light and gives abundant wall space to each piece to allow for comfortable viewing and a smooth flow from image to image. While the pieces there are unframed, finishing information is provided by Frame Art for viewers to consider. 

Also notable is the paper upon which each piece is printed. Each strictly limited edition is on Crystal Archive Digital Pearl paper which contains pearly mica crystals covered with a thin layer of metal oxides. The reflective properties of the paper result in intense warmth and depth of pigments and captivating end results. 

In addition to his floral pieces, Ballinger enjoys playing with the placement of familiar objects in unusual places. Most notable is a tiny distressed and haggard doll with long blonde, tangled hair and tiny red shoes. The miniature piece was a childhood toy of his aunt who received it while in Germany. Ballinger carries her with him as he travels and seeks out unique settings for placement and opportunities for interesting photographs. 

There is something unsettling about the doll. She is very small – plastic – with thread wrapped around her legs. In many of Ballinger’s images she appears hauntingly sad, discarded even. These attributes beg the viewer to conjure scenarios and stories. 

“I like to do stuff that has an implied story,” says Ballinger. “The story is there but it’s not specific. I want people to wonder what is going on there.”

In one particular image, “Alone with the Light,” the doll stands alone in the dark, illuminated by a harsh and aggressive spotlight, leaving the viewer with a feeling of unprotected vulnerability and fear. In another, “Dandelions,” she rests in a patch of aged and seeded dandelions. Her neck twists at an unnatural angle suggesting neglect or struggle. The scene begs the viewer to reach into the picture plane to offer a kind hand of help just to let her know she is not forgotten. 

Like a three-ring circus bouncing from one act to the next, Ballinger’s brain seems to harbor a similar energy. While his current show at Jennifer Ford illustrates his serious side, a wacky sense of humor seems to continuously swirl in the background of Ballinger’s mind. With a new book for children, illustrated and written by the artist, his absurd tendencies bubble to the surface. Animal Gas is a wild scratch n’ sniff picture book that kids will surely embrace while many adults scoff at its content, making the book even more appealing to children. 

Animal Gas isn’t Ballinger’s first adventure in the land of children or publishing. He has experience in both worlds. Once an illustrator for Microsoft, he helped develop software for children as the lead illustrator for the first version of the Encarta encyclopedia. He went on to even bigger projects while  working for Big Idea Productions, where he worked on the VeggieTales series for children. He currently works as a freelance illustrator, hopping from one project to the next, developing children’s books, websites, games and videos. 

“I can’t seem to help myself,” says Ballinger. “I just always seem to be making stuff.”

Another project about to launch is a series of four books highlighting “weird food”. The series is called Kookey Cookery, a campy archive of irregular recipes from yesteryear. It features vintage recipes such as cheeseburger pancakes and flowerpot sandwiches. 

“That whole era of food is hilarious,” says Ballinger with a chuckle. 

With a whirl of ideas constantly brewing, Ballinger is a creative who has the luxury, or maybe the curse, of moving from one thing to another. 

“When I get burned out on one, I can switch gears and work on the other,” he explains. “Being able to change up is really nice, but working on so many projects at once makes it so I can’t really give all my time to just one project.”

Ballinger’s first solo show, Forgotten Observations, hangs at Jennifer Ford Art through April 8. 

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