myrna balk, artist

Review: Fiber Art Show: Sequence

Nepal, Village Inthe sky,  43 wide by 34 long Nepali traditional fabric, Turkish marbelized fiber ,cotton, bamboo batting
Remembering Yosemite National Park
24" x 20", cotton felt, porcupine quill



In her refreshingly candid way, Myrna Balk mentioned at her fiber art show “Sequence” opening at Gallery 93, Brookline Senior Center, that the work is a result of her “throwing away her books on quilting”, and starting to work on her fiber pieces in a more free-form way. The show is a culmination of her 12-year exploration in fiber art.  Her very first fiber pieces were indeed, baby blankets, and although she had not expected to continue on with the material, she says that when she found herself not working from sketches, she let the harmonious and conflicting textures stimulate her design and led her to delve more into the opportunities and flexibility that fiber art provided. Talking about the progression of each piece, Balk says, “I love the process of cutting materials up and putting the pieces back together in a new, unifying configuration. Sometimes it is not until the work is finished that I understand the message or feeling that I want to convey.”  


David Weinberg, director of Gallery 93 and a well-known photographer, talked about Balk’s artwork at the opening as having the following four distinct qualities, which I will expand upon: 


Not-your-typical Quilt 


The art you see in this exhibition is far from traditional feminine expressions that one usually sees in fiber art expressed through patterned quilts. There is an intentional departure from symmetry and repetition. There is deliberate looseness yet a formality that is almost hard to describe. The pieces that Balk creates are beautiful and simple, yet profound at the same time. Unpretentious and free of rules, her artwork is able to relate to the simplest audience, but the sophisticated composition and high level of artistic abstraction carries a deep meaning that draws the expert in further.  


An example of a well composed piece for is “Yosemite” a juxtaposition of sharp angles and a rich combination of color that can beckon the viewer to remember Yosemite park or any a location similar to it.   


Use of Multi-media 


Balk’s work is more akin to sculpture. She deliberately adds a three-dimensional aspect to the work, making it a lot richer in depth, and adding to the textural quality of the surface. In her new work, she has started to modify and paint the fabric, adding layers of ambiguity to the materials.  


Balk’s past sculptures in bamboo, clay, stone and steel are often allegorical and abstract. She has created installations for parks, ponds and public places. Her etchings, monotypes and woodcuts are simple and show a level of restraint that is hard not to admire. 


“Not My Mother’s Dress” is whimsical and fun. “The Way Things Were” is another atypical piece in the show. “Progress Hanging” from an old hanger it recalls some of the fabric and combinations that women 50 years ago might have worn. In “Ladders to Escape”, in the background of fabric, Balk uses bamboo, twine, cotton, burlap, screening wire, metallic fiber and wood.  Her work with multi-media in a variety of settings has clearly added to the quality of her fiber art, a glorious addition to her investigation in yet another media, in turn showing her as an artist who is open and willing to explore new grounds. 


Outward-looking Art  


Weinberg noted that most artists’ work is a self-reflection, upon their own past, their history, and the things that affect them. In Balk’s art, he finds a level of selflessness that is rare. Despite the indirect relationship to the subject matter in her artwork, Balk is able to pinpoint in a quite provocative manner the heart of the social issue. There is, however,  some connection to her past. Being a retired Social Worker, her experience in matters involving social issues does often emerge in her pieces, and they express her feelings about injustice in a powerful, non-verbal way.  Almost always, the work is a metaphor. More importantly, it is impersonal to her yet deeply personal to the viewer. She explicitly states, “I hope the viewer will find his or her own meaning in the image they see.”  


The expansive 4 by 4 foot cloud of painted fabric representing water titled “Crossing the Rio Grande” which has a fragile display of wooded elements crossing the river as the refugees might go across. While there is no reference to the menacing experience, many refugees have crossed this river with great risk and uncertainty and the piece is laden with meaning.  Balk has since interviewed refugees who waited across the Rio Grande. Balk has designed the piece so that it is multidirectional; it can be viewed from any angle and still be inviting to ponder.   


“Ladders to Escape”, the powerful title borrowed from Joan Miro, is deliberate and provocative, since the reference is the same- the social situation where escape becomes necessary. Here Balk is referencing exploitation abuse of women and children. 


Global Coverage  


Myrna Balk’s work spans multiple continents and societies. Instead of focusing on one particular problem, the issues she depicts cross multiple borders and cover the larger issue of human rights.   


Visitor and artist friend Eleanor Rubin compares Balk’s work to Joseph Beuys, who often worked with felt and tallow and wood, with neither weavings nor fabric but Rubin believes that their work shares an intention, as she puts it, “to draw people to their art through texture and tactile qualities and thereby capture their attention on difficult subjects”.  Rubin further thought that The Rio Grande and That’s all I have the battered pants seemed in conversation with each other, the river adding color to the tattered pants and the pants adding gravity and fragility to the colors and movement of the river.

 As noted in her website, the multitude of social problems that Balk addresses in her artwork ranging from homelessness to prostitution spans various continents from North America to Europe and Asia. A major feature of her past work has been the intersection of her social work experience with her artistic talents, best illustrated by her experience in Nepal. As a social worker she began working with women who had been victims of sex trafficking. She then began to create art which both reflected their experiences and informed people about the exploitation of women. While Myrna’s art has dealt with such serious topics as sex trafficking, the demand factor in the exploitation of women, and the holocaust, her work can also at times be humorous and whimsical.  

 In the show “Sequence”,  “Roots Matters” is a beautiful gold threaded tree with brocade outline for the border. On the surface it is seen as just a beautiful tree, but by giving it the name with meaning, it alludes to the importance of the past, the importance of valuing history and at the same time, conjures the importance of differences and the vastness of mankind. 


Myrna Balk invariably sees the entire world connected as a series of social problems. The title “Sequence” couldn’t be more appropriate from this point of view.  


Review by Mollica Manandhar  

(Architect, Payette Associates, Boston, MA) 

November 2014 


 Below are some visitor quotes, which exemplify the connection that viewers are able to make with her artwork almost instantaneously: 


“Your freedom as an artist and your passion for righting wrong’s make. This is a very original and provocative show. It’s wonderful to watch you continue to grow.” 


“Very impressed with your ability to transform the material into art. Moving, unusual, powerful.”  


“What a marvelous show. I admire the work for its political depth and also its artistic beauty.” 


“How delightful and moving your work is! Each piece evokes a different feeling and I love the “back” stories.” 


“What a terrific exhibit- an inspiration for creativity, for seeing the world differently, for appreciating color and contrast, and for the extraordinary visions of an artist. Congratulations on yet another wellspring of heart, mind and muse.” 



contact Myrna Balk for permission to reprint
May 11, 2014
Contact Myrna Balk
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etchings, woodcuts, and monoprints sculpture photographs artist statement and bio fiber arts