Daniel A. Ezekiel Balan graduated from the University of Dallas in 1999 with a B.A. in art with a sculpture focus. He married his UD sweetheart (Margaret Haine, B.A. ’01) in 2003 after returning safely from Afghanistan where he served as a US Army Interrogator. Having received an M.F.A. from Rutgers University and a master’s in architecture from the University of Notre Dame, he currently works as an architect in New York City while trying to maintain a professional art practice and an active family life. He and Margo are expecting their sixth child this Easter.
Q: As an artist and architect, how has your UD experience formed the way you approach art and your career?
I set up the first Battle of the Bands in the fall of my senior year during my short time in Student Government. After my band played, our party was busted before it started. A few years later, that bust showed up on a background check, and I was unable to join the army as a wiretap guy. So I became an interrogator instead. That changed my life — the UD effect.
But truly, the many twists my life seems to have taken since graduation have kept me regularly reinterpreting what I gained from my time there. Some observations I’ve made over the years: The essence of the UD experience for me boils down to the timeless relevance of the classical tradition to the pursuit of the good life. No other university Rome program is balancing rigorous academics with the experience of the good life. In Rome, Lyle Novinski evinced the profound complementarity between the arts and all fields of knowledge. He made Bramante and Borromini my peers. In Irving, Cam Schoepp demanded rigorous formal and conceptual intentionality. This has translated into both an unachievably high standard in my work, and also an understanding of the larger purpose towards which all achievement is rightly directed. I’ve lately realized that the sculpture program at UD was really an amazing education in problem solving. The painful result being that I now think there is virtually no problem that I can’t d— [expletive] well fix myself with the right tools.
What’s more, I met my wife at UD and, through enduring friendships there, deepened my faith.
Q: Who is your favorite contemporary artist or architect and why?
My current favorites are all lesser-known deities working in the milieu of the struggle to support a family and make beautiful things — like fellow Crusaders, Ian Pedigo, B.A. ’99, Eric Winogradoff, B.A. ’97, Andy Farley, B.A. ’99. I am often confounded by contemporary art … Peter Doig and Kenny Harris stand out as painters. Alexander Stoddart and John Collier do great bronze figures. But I have to say my favorite piece of contemporary sculpture, hands down, is “Coco, 15” by Kevin Francis Gray. It should be a work for public devotion in a cathedral somewhere. Anyone who can depict contemporary dress in a religious work without it looking idiomatic is a true artist.
Amongst architects, I don’t know if anyone is making buildings as beautiful and with as much integrity as Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil. His traditionalism is truly contemporary. In a perfect world, the UD campus buildings would be a mix of O’Neil Ford, El-Wakil and maybe Thomas Gordon Smith.
Q: Which of your works are you most proud of?
As an artist, I am not very prolific; as a designer, much of my work is unrealized, and as an architect, it is all collaboration. But my first attempt at producing a good oil painting ended up as a triptych which won first prize in a show in Chicago and again in New York City. They now hang in my dining room. A few years later, I was given the opportunity to make a Pieta of Joan of Arc in bronze for a US army chapel. That was a very personal project and a real gift from the patron. I was able to work with some saintly people and the sculpture has become a part of the military community there. I was told the soldiers process past it as part of funereal ceremonies for war dead. As an architect, I worked for almost five years as the project architect for a huge project for Villanova University which is under construction now. Bringing a building to life can seem a lot like war itself, but I was even able to get some new sculptures for their campus into the designs. I hope they get built!
Q: You balance producing your own artwork and commissioned work while also being a project architect for Tiffany and Co. What advice would you give to current UD students seeking a successful professional career in art and architecture?
Someone once quipped that specialization is for insects. One of the great strengths of UD is the universality of the student experience. Having the opportunity to be an art major and play rugby on a drama scholarship is probably not that common elsewhere. Architecture is a profession that benefits from a Catholic perspective. For example, as an architect, I’ve been surprised how much I draw from my theater education. So take advantage of that breadth of engagement provided by the core and the size.
As a student, I had some misgivings about how my experience compared to those at more prestigious or elite schools. Later, as a grad student and then a professional, it became painfully evident that my education was superior to most. Dear professors, I wish I’d taken it more seriously!
Know the job market. It seems all universities suffer from a lack of imagination when it comes to how they envision the student will actually work. Art and architecture programs today seem still to focus on the abstract or machine geared primarily toward the modern art gallery. But in fact there are hundreds of niche markets for artists and architects.
Finally, I can’t do better than the advice I got from my mother-in-law, who sent six children to UD, regarding the difficulty of raising children: “Stay in the trenches.”
To that I’d add: Pray. Know yourself. Find a supportive community of friends, family, spouse — people who respect your work or your goals and who will push you really hard. Develop a vision for your family and stick to that. Return to that often.