In continuing the Becoming the Student project, I’m aiming to use different methods and mediums in building the portraits. In this piece, I focused on something tied directly to Billy’s identity and his presence in the world: his tattoos. I wanted to depict the color, the saturation, and the overtness of these artworks that have been put on his body. They’re really important to him as a way to tell a story and represent his deeply held beliefs.
Portrait of Billy (Fruit of the Vine), Pastel on Stonehenge, 19 by 22 inches, 2014.
Billy on his portrait:
“That’s really cool. I was wondering why you were staring at my midsection the whole time…”
Billy on maintaining awe:
“There’s not a method. I think our hearts are prone to becoming numb. Derek Webb has a song with a line that says ‘we love lovers less wild’ and I think that’s the truth. For me it’s about constantly coming back to the place where I’m asking God to reveal Himself. I want to create good longing in my heart. Difficult moments and hardships and conflict and frustrating things in my life point me back to grace. Another practical way is having people around me who can speak into my life; that’s been huge.”
Billy is on a quest to complete an entire sleeve of tattoos. To help him out, I suggested the classic image from The Cloud of Unknowing. I definitely think it’s skin-worthy:
“The creation of legend is never known at the time of its genesis. Only displacement can imbue the past with the aura of sentimentality. Oh, to yearn, to stretch back with every fiber! To feel again that desire; the shrouded figures that play still on those lost, faded shores. Seeing ever so faintly the afternoon sunlight through old windows and recalling the impression of newfound knowledge in those dusty old books. Oh, to squeeze the eyes tightly, if only to glimpse for one moment that gone-ness – to feel it in the pit, to be in that pit, to stay: impossible. Knowing that it all exists only because I can’t stay there. Oh, to regress into my own idealization, to see myself again as I did then…”
“All these remainders have a keening tonality, a tinnitus of sounds, which we are unable to hear outwardly but which our hearts intuit. They are the silent sirens of what has gone before, and they call to us with accolades and accusations.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.
So ends my remembrance of Ox-Bow, ten years after. So much more could be said, be shown. I’ll leave it at this for now. The text I have shared in these posts is, perhaps (if only to me), my best artwork. It evokes for me the feeling of remembering and the instances that remembrance serves equally well. The words I’ve shared are as present to me as the times they transform and recreate. In turning them over, reading and re-reading them again and again, I sense anew so many true things. In them I know again the many secrets I held all those years ago. The creaking of the Inn, the internal affects of grasses and trees, and the whispers of the wind – which even now (this VERY second!) are stealing across the Lagoon and through the meadow, past the Mary K and over the dunes – are all as true now in these mnemonic words as they were when I wrote those words down. And they rest in me, speaking in me as to one who has glimpsed a deep but unnameable majesty. Darkness sits near (deathly close to) light.
- Matt Ballou, September 1, 2011.
Images from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.