Douglas Balentine’s realist paintings attest to his classical training, but after many years of producing traditional portraits, Balentine, a Charleston native, stepped out of his downtown studio and took to the beach!
“Classicism was my early training and it is still important to me, but I’d been painting in a classical style for many years and kind of felt like I needed a change,” he says. “So I went out to the beach, somewhere I hadn’t painted before, except maybe when I was very young. In classical art you have your verticals and horizontals, structure and geometry, but out there it’s just this big empty space, this expansiveness.” Though Balentine initially used the setting on Sullivan’s Island as an artistic exercise, what resulted became a recurring theme, including the ever-present cargo ships that frequent his paintings. “They reference something that’s beyond our field of vision. It’s as if to say the painting doesn’t end at the horizon, there’s more there,” he explains.
Balentine’s need to look beyond the horizon, to delve deeper, results from his interest in the human experience and our interconnectedness. “I love to draw people,” he says. “When I see someone I think is interesting, I’ll often ask them to sit for me.” Such as Nina, who is the model for many of Balentine’s recent drawings and paintings. “I saw Nina catering at a party a few years ago and just thought she was so beautiful.” In Cargo, pictured here, her gaze suggests contemplation or reflection on the past, even though her placement within the composition roots her firmly within our space and the present. Balentine says he thought a lot about Nina’s African heritage while creating this portrait, and how the ships we see today coming and going from Charleston’s port are navigating the same routes that slave ships might have once used.
Through all of his work, Balentine hopes people connect with something larger than themselves. “The greatest compliment is when clients tell me, even after having a piece for 10 years or more, that they still find something else in the painting every time they look at it, and that it’s inspiring to them. That’s the best feeling of all. I like to know that the work has a life of its own after my process is over—that it means something to people.”
words: Jessica Dyer
images: Collin James and provided