Watercolor paintings and lithographs, an oil and water method of printing, by German artist and author Jan Balet bring satirical humor and precise brushwork to the Burke Gallery at Plattsburgh State’s Myers Fine Arts Building. The debut of the “What Was He Thinking?” exhibit commemorates what would have been the artist’s 105th birthday.

The exhibit spans a number of Balet’s collections and displays 87 pieces of the artist’s work. The watercolors, lithographs and acrylic paintings will be shown through March 16, and are available for exploration every day of the week during the hours of noon to 4 p.m.

An artist from a young age, Balet was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1938.

During his time in America, Balet married four times and had many girlfriends, Balet’s son Peter Balet said.

“My father was a woman’s man,” Peter Balet said. “I was born in 1940, a year after my father arrived. I think he also did this just to be sure that he wouldn’t get sent back to Germany. You have to keep in mind this was in the time of World War II.”

By the mid-1940s, Jan Balet became the art director of publications such as Mademoiselle and Seventeen.

His lithographic works, made on stone canvas with oils to repel paint in certain places, were popular in Europe and the United States. He also wrote and illustrated children’s books, including “Amos and the Moon” and “The Five Rollatinis.”

Jan Balet’s son and his wife, Marie Balet, opened the exhibition on Feb. 15 with a lively talk on Balet’s life and inspirations. The couple served as the inspiration for an entire collection of Jan Balet’s works.
PSUC museum secretary Melody DeLong said the artist was an interesting man with talent and a unique sense of humor.

“He played the accordian, smoked cigars and drank Black Velvet [whiskey],” DeLong said. “He carried three cameras with him everywhere he went. He was always taking pictures of shadows.”
Peter Balet said his father was always sketching, and those sketches were often the first step in creating most of his paintings. Because of this, several of his works exist in at least four or five versions.
Jan Balet also had an astute sense of humor and worldview.

Some of his displayed works include “The Herald Tribune,” which depicts several cats standing on an issue of the Herald-Tribune; “To the Left You See the White House,” a patriotic scene marked by former President George H. W. Bush’s time in office; and “Osteria Italiana,” a portrait of a starving dog laying in front of a butcher’s full case of meat.

“It’s very important to look at the title of the painting,” DeLong said. “That’s where the humor is.”

In addition to having a quirky sense of humor, Marie Balet said her father-in-law was a cat person, the reason for his several cat paintings and lithographs.

The exhibit was curated in collaboration by art historian Sheldon Hurst and art collector Michael Paolercio and includes prints as well as originals that had been previously stored in an Oregonian church.
Hurst rated “Market Day” as the most valuable and most artistic piece of the collection according to the Jan Balet’s family.

The “What Was He Thinking?” exhibit ends at PSUC March 16 and will travel next to SUNY Adirondack for its second viewing.

Email Sage Lewandowski at news@cardinalpointsonline.com

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