Bigger than life.
The wild man.
A mentor of all mentors.
These words and phrases have many times been used to describe Inland Northwest artist Harold Balazs.
“His impact on the Northwest as a whole, the artistic community, the architectural community, is beyond compare,” Art Spirit Gallery owner Blair Williams said Tuesday. “It's really under-reported in so many ways.”
Balazs, 89, of Mead, has given his last masterpiece to the world. The iconic artist died Saturday night, leaving behind a treasure trove of colorful, creative, inventive and imaginary works of a wide variety of mediums.
Williams said his fingerprints are recognizable everywhere throughout the region, from schools and churches to banks and public spaces. In Coeur d'Alene, his sculptures can be seen on Government Way and on the North Idaho College campus.
"I have a 10-year-old daughter, and we can drive through Portland or Seattle and she says, 'Oh, that's Harold Balazs' work," Williams said.
His influence on others, like his art, is something that will not fade.
"The impact he made on so many artists, and I mean important artists, not-so-important artists and up-and-coming artists, is life-changing," Williams said.
In October 2016, Balazs was honored by Mayor Steve Widmyer and the city of Coeur d’Alene when he received the Excellence in the Arts Award, one of the annual Mayor’s Awards in the Arts.
Balazs spent 70 years of his life creating art, using materials such as concrete, wood, glass, pen and ink, graphite and many more. Williams said he was best known for his enamels.
About 140 of his works will be exhibited at Art Spirit Gallery for an upcoming show, "Harold Balazs: I Did It My Way," which opens Jan. 12.
"His very last enamel piece is in our collection," Williams said. "We want to be able to share that with generations to come."
During his extensive career, his biography on the Art Spirit's website tells of Balazs receiving national notoriety throughout the country and being honored with many prestigious awards, including the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for Architectural Craft, the Creative Achievement Award from the Enamellist Society, the Seattle Metal Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and an honorary doctorate from the Gonzaga University School of Law. His work is displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And in 2001, Lloyd Herman, founding director of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, hand-selected Balazs for Northwest Designer Craftsmen’s Living Treasures video series.
In interviews for KSPS Public TV's "Northwest Profiles," uploaded to YouTube last January, other Inland Northwest artists shared how Balazs' life of work has left a lasting impression.
"The one word I would use to describe Harold would be 'inspiration,'" said glass artist Steve Adams. "I don’t know five people you can put together that have produced as much work as he has."
"Really what inspires me is just his enthusiasm and a love of what he’s doing," said painter Mel McCuddin. "He told me one time he’d never had a job. This is what he does. He’s one of the few guys I’ve ever known that made his living totally from the art world."
"He’s often said that he makes art because he has to, but also because it comes from his need to leave something behind," said multi-media and neon artist Ken Yuhasz. "So if you’re going to leave something behind, his legacy is he’s left thousands of things behind and people will be seeing them and enjoying them for many years."
In an interview for the 2001 "Creating Wonder: Harold Balazs” video, the late artist said he had horror vacui, a fear of blank space "that has nothing going on."
“I’m an arranger of visual elements, that’s what I do,” he said. "The purpose of art is to create wonder."