Becoming the Student, #4: Billy Glosson

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.

IMG_8353Portrait 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:1979654_10103885160284509_1941637934_n


I’m rating Prometheus a 6.5 out of 10. It was enjoyable but misses in a few main ways:

1) Asking the “big questions” is good. Reducing them to patricide and “hulk-smash!” moments is vapid.
2) Ensemble casts are good. Cluttering up a pretty straightforward plot with idiotic asides and incidental scenes is lame. The ballet David goes on to lace Charlie’s drink with Alien-spawn is great. Charlie’s mood swing is instantaneous and weak. Just way too many off-the-point, less-than-meaningful scenes. The entire dialogue between Vickers and the Captain leading to their tryst “in ten minutes” was groan-inducing. Sometimes too many people is too many people; they could have halved the cast and cut out weak scenes.
3) If you’re going to have an old guy, have an old guy, don’t use horrible face make up. Would have been a PERFECT chance to get super-meta with Peter O’Toole playing the old guy while David watches Lawrence of Arabia to get grooming/speaking tips and be “the good son” to his ailing, deathly maker.
4) Let’s stop hiring Lost writers, ok? We don’t need more “wow, there’s some cool tech” shots and attempts at hip jocularity (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, cue the laugh track, etc, etc); we need potent, meaningful images that resonate with us.
5) When you talk about Ridley Scott making a movie, you have a right to expect at least a 9 out of 10. So while I did enjoy this movie just as a fun sci-fi thing, it’s really hard to be happy with this when we’ve got the man behind Blade Runner and Alien making it. It really should have been so much more.
6) If you want a movie to stand on its own, make it stand on its own. This film requires our knowledge of the Alien franchise… and that makes it thin by itself.
7) It’s awesome how some psycho-sexual fetish paintings from the 1970’s basically made this entire series of movies possible. Go 2D!

All of that said, I enjoyed my time with the movie. The visuals and ships were great, and there were nice moments (almost all of them having to do with David). I did like the attempt to connect with deep yearnings that have motivated humankind for our entire history. It’s not a mistake that we seek to grapple with these issues culturally and personally. We want our art forms to deal with them, too. Those questions and concerns deserve our strongest, best efforts as artists.

And here’s a great review of the film… and another.

It was a record, that flaming consumer…

“And the fire was always there with us as well; its cast of gray ash strewn about as a memory of the night past. Here and there on the ground lay also the print of a known foot, the circumference of a bottle, the twisted remains of a cigarette butt. It was a record, that flaming consumer: constantly fed and ever needing more, never totally gone out.”

“The bricks keep it contained, except on those special, pagan nights. Over the years they have become fragile, having seen the fierce flames that flash for three months and then fade for nine many times. The dune now cradles the fire pit in its sandy palm; nature allows us to knead that surface and turn it over with toes and rakes for another day. All the while smoke signals the call over the waters and the trees…” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Images from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

Coyolxauhqui and Me

Above is the awesome stone relief featuring Coyolxauhqui. Check out her story about embarrassment and dismemberment here.

Below is my mezzotint print illustrating Lamentations 3, Verses 10 and 11.

I was inspired by Coyolxauhqui’s stone disk and tried to give my piece some of the energy of that image of the ancient Aztec goddess of the Moon.

This piece and 15 others based on Lamentations 3, Verses 1 through 26 (as well as drawings and paintings of other subjects) will appear in my solo show at Gordon College in Massachusetts this February and March.


My most recent completed work is an oil painting, 48 inches in diameter, titled Certainty. Because of the nature of the ideas involved in this piece, it was constructed in a manner that did not allow for an “up” orientation. I actually never painted it from the same picture-plane position twice. I frequently moved my model and altered my position of observation with each session.

The work has any number of “correct” reading orientations, but I’d like to settle on one or find a way to spin the work slowly so that many possible positions are presented to different viewers. Click the image below to see a large GIF of the piece. The GIF shows 14 different “stations” of the painting (give it a few minutes to load fully). What’s the best way to view it?

Miranda Grace Ballou


Your hands and feet… your eyes and brain… they are all more than fresh; they are still being knit together.

As I sit here, there you are across the room in your mother, your heart striking a tattoo of potential to future joys and woes. When I think about all that I am, all that your mom is, all that our people are, all that our world is, I am caught short of breath… not really overwhelmed, but overawed.

Overawed because I know that, in major ways (foreseen and unforeseen), I will be part of the way you access all that has been. This great world, this great universe of experience and time and sensation and being – each facet part of your inheritance as a human being – is going to be presented to you by my faltering, limited, frail hands and voice.

And I am moved by all of this, partly because I know that being alive is hard and I don’t want you to hurt. But I am more moved by it because I know how much the miracle of being conscious has inundated me, made me, transformed me. The glories and wonders of the things you’ll know and see and touch and hear and be flood me; I, too, know them, and know that you’ll know them so much differently than I have. But we’ll have that knowing to share.

Part of that knowing is a realization that the dignity of what you are is because of a Story that transcends space, time, personality, individuality, and being itself. That’s the place I want to start, even as we explore everything else, because everything else is embedded in that Story. You are in that Story.

You are the precious thoughts of the Author of that Story. You are the manifestation of the articulated structures of Story rippling through all things. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

Neko Case Favorites

Neko Case‘s voice is something beyond description. You need to experience it. Go to NPR right now and listen to her concert recorded in April 2009.

Mark one up for sharing music: a few years ago a friend burned mix of Neko’s music for me. I now own most of her stuff – and I paid cold hard cash for it – because it’s all good work and worth every penny.

My favorites are a few from Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and Middle Cyclone – her latest. Here they are (with a few linked to YouTube videos of live versions):

From “Blacklisted” – Ghost Writing

From “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” – Star Witness and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

From “Middle Cyclone” – Prison Girls and The Pharaohs

My wife and I got to see Neko in Kansas City this past July; it was awesome. You should see her, too.

neko case uptown