Balson was born at Bothenhampton, Dorset, on 13 August 1890. He immigrated to Australia in 1913 and, from 1922, studied under Grace Crowley, Anne Dangar and Henry Gibbons at Julian Ashton’s Art School, Sydney. He also attended the sketch club at Dorrit Black’s Modern Art Centre, holding his first solo exhibition there in 1932. Between 1934 and 1937, Balson painted at the Crowley–Fizelle school, benefiting from Crowley’s interest in André Lhote. In 1939 his work was shown at Exhibition 1 at David Jones Galleries, alongside Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Frank and Margel Hinder, Frank Medworth, and Gerald Lewers. Drawing on Eleonore Lange’s art theory, the exhibition showcased abstraction in the Sydney art scene. Non-figurative composition and colour became Balson’s major focuses in his landmark series Constructive paintings, first exhibited at Anthony Hordern’s Gallery in 1941. In this series, Balson asserted the eternal essence of ‘pure’ painting, describing Piet Mondrian as his greatest influence.[i] Constructive paintings were shown with Robert Klippel’s sculptures at Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, in 1951, and at Twelve Australian artists, New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1953. He continued to develop Constructive paintingsuntil 1956.
In the later 1950s, Balson began the series Non-objective paintings, emphasising gestural brushwork and a sense of the sublime; these works were exhibited at David Jones Galleries in 1957 and at Blaxland Gallery, Sydney, in 1960. That year, Balson travelled to the United States, England and France. He saw American minimalism and hard-edge abstraction, and was inspired by Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Ad Reinhardt. Balson was also influenced by European tachist painters, such as Alberto Burri and Antonio Tàpies. He began work on Matter paintings, in which he exploited the physicality of paint poured onto canvas, in Devon, exhibiting 30 paintings from the series at Galerie R. Creuze, Paris, in October 1960. He continued to develop Matter paintings on his return to Australia, and experimented briefly with hard-edge abstraction in 1963. Balson made plans to return to the United States during 1964, but died later that year, in Sydney, on 27 August.
[i] Balson, letter to Michel Seuphor, April 1955, cited by Bruce Adams, Ralph Balson: A retrospective, Melbourne: Heide Park and Art Gallery 1989, pp. 24–27.