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Stephen Talasnik at Battat Contemporary in Montreal


Over the past eight years, New York-based artist Stephen Talasnik has been working to perfect his sculpture Nimbus (2002-2010), conceived specifically for the Battat Contemporary. While looming large over the rest of the pieces in his first Canadian show, the massive 25-foot-long (and sometimes 9-foot-high) sculpture equally embodies the ideas explored in the other sculptures and drawings in the show Panorama: Monolithe intime. Notions of past and future, craft and design, nature and structure, science and art all seem to converge in an art that is broad ranging and hard to define. Regardless of the deeper meanings and inspirations, the work of Philadelphia-native Stephen Talasnik is nothing short of enthralling.

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Stephen Talasnik, “Nimbus,” basswood and acrylic, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Battat Contemporary.

Upon first entering Battat, Diagrams: Iceberg (2008) immediately captures the imagination. Detailing, from precise pencil marks to atmospheric smudging (not to mention the fantastical structure figured in the work), grabs the viewer’s attention. The paper is so intensely worked that it starts to mimic the texture of a time-weathered manuscript. In Ancient Human Knowledge (2003), the artist presents multiple structures removed from logical reality. Lattice constructions (reminiscent of Herzog & de Meuron’s bird’s nest stadium of the Beijing Olympics) overlap into a complex system beyond the systematic schema of an architectural blueprint.  Spaceships and roller coasters, infrastructure and weaving, the references are rich and multiple. Each person I spoke with at the show’s opening seemed to have a different interpretation. The drawings unfurl like scrolls, prophetic and mysterious. Similar to the works of Piranesi and Escher, Talasnik’s drawings create the wondrously impossible. His structures often defy logic. They connote an inner world and drift into a dream-like space.

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Stephen Talasnik, “Ancient Human Knowledge,” graphite on paper, 2003. Courtesy of Battat Contemporary.

Talasnik’s massive sculpture, Nimbus, escapes classification. Structural in construction, the sections linked together harness a certain fluidity. Is it a limb of a sea creature? Is it part of a nautical construction?  Talasnik keeps his audience guessing, all the while instilling awe. A similar spirit filters through all of the work by the American artist, who has enjoyed a 30-year long successful international career. Walking around Nimbus, I noticed the projected shadows on the wall echoing shapes in other works: the faded contours of the sculpture encased in resin in Tunneling (2007-2008), the levels of definition in erasure and precision of the drawing Allowable Stress (2009).

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View of Panorama: Monolithe intime. Ice Princess in foreground. Courtesy of Battat Contemporary.

To view Stephen Talasnik’s work is to witness a modern-day Da Vinci taking structures into the realm of the imaginary; Talasnik explores architectural and engineered forms with the same wonder. He explores materiality, as in Ice Princess (2002-2008), a structure where roller coaster meets seashell, and sections of basswood drip with polymer. He explores texture, getting lost in the details of his drawings, such as Torso (from the series Glashaus; 2010) where he makes fine points, almost hidden within a densely shaded area. He explores shapes, molding basswood and bamboo in seemingly counter-intuitive shapes in the loopy sculpture Ribbon Candy (2005). He immerses himself in a fantastical and imaginary world, one foot in reality, one foot beyond.

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Stephen Talasnik, “Ribbon Candy,” basswood and bamboo, 2005. Courtesy of Battat Contemporary.

Throughout his awe-inspiring oeuvre, Talasnik draws inspiration from the built world to imagine structures that only exist in his reality. It is an absolute pleasure to be able to be enthralled by Talasnik’s work in situ in Montreal. As stunning as the work may be in photographs, one needs to experience the work directly as the detailing, precision and transportative qualities of Talasnik’s sculptures and drawings simply do not translate.

Panorama: Monolithe Intime runs at Battat Contemporary until October 23. Talasnik also has a sculptural installation on display at the Storm King Art Center (for their 50th anniversary) until November 14. Talasnik is represented in New York City by the Marlborough Gallery.