North Dakota is home to thousands of visual artists, but one, in particular, is getting a lot of recognition and attracting international celebrities to the Peace Garden State.
Artist Shane Balkowitsch is using old at one nearly forgotten technology to breathe new life into North Dakota’s creative arts scene.
Balkowitsch’s wet plate studio in Bismarck is becoming kind of like an epicenter for art in North Dakota.
“My goal is to have this be a place where artists want to come,” said Balkowitsch.
Balkowitsch has been attracting big names including singer and songwriter Jon Batiste who is the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Batiste sat for Balkowitsh on March 29, just a few days before taking home five statues from the 64th annual Grammy Awards on April 3.
Balkowitsch says Batiste was trying to take a break from city life, so he traveled to Standing Rock to listen to the traditional Native American singers and dancers.
“DJ Two Bears from Standing Rock reached out to me and said, Well, we’re gonna have John, and we’d like to do some special form where you take his portrait,” Balkowitsch said.
Balkowitsch knew that if he was going to capture a historic wet plate of Jon Batiste he would need to incorporate a piano but all he had to work with was his daughter’s electric practice piano.
“That’s all I needed. I need the black and white keys,” said Balkowitsch.
Right away Jon Batiste started playing the piano for the whole crew inside the studio.
“Olivia, she’s 11 now. This is her piano, which is kind of important. She practices on it every day. And, John sat down at that piano, I got video of this, and he just started playing and he kinda said woah.”
What happened next was a magical moment that illustrates Batiste’s care for those he spends his time with.
“I’m getting goosebumps telling the story. He’s doing this for my daughter. He’s never, he has no reason to do this for my daughter. Right? Why is he doing this? And, and that’s just who he is.”
Another big name to recently sit for Balkowitsch is Canadian clinical psychologist, YouTube personality and public intellectual Jordan Peterson.
“He’s quite the intellectual so it’s a little intimidating knowing that you’re going to be spending some time with Jordan Peterson,” said Balkowitsch.
One of the plates Shane processed for Peterson is entitled “A Lifetime of Contemplation.”
“It’s based off of a conversation with Jordan, I had a photograph of [Carl] Jung, which Jordan really looks up to. And, so we kind of knew he has a cigar and has his glasses on obviously, but we kind of loosely based this portrait, it was all about the hands. And in the inward thinking. The man has done a lot of thinking in his life.”
“The Lobster Analogy” will be curated in the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Balkowitsch also took close-up portraits of Jordan and his wife, Tammy.
“It’s all about friendship. It’s all about trust and you give and garner trust over years.”
Shane has taken wet plates of other celebrities including the world-famous Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Balkawitsch’s wet plate of former heavyweight boxing champion of the world Evander Holyfield is housed in the Smithsonian museum.
The award-winning North Dakota documentary, “Balkowitsch,” which explores the life and art of Shane Balkowitch is playing at the historical Fargo Theatre on Friday at 8 p.m. There will be a Q&A following the screening.