Becoming The Student, #15: Mar Cus

One of the most significant relationships of my adult life has been with a former student and current colleague, Marcus Miers. Right now he’s finishing up his MFA at The University of Wisconsin at Madison, but he undertook his BFA at The University of Missouri. Marcus was among the most interesting, confusing, and outstanding students I’ve had at Mizzou. He is, so far, the only student I’ve had as an undergraduate who came back to work in the classroom with me as an assistant in the very classes in which he distinguished himself.

The semester where he worked with me as an assistant to my Color Drawing courses remains a highlight of my teaching experience. As fun as that was, however, his participation in Color Drawing as a student was more transformative to me. He consistently challenged the premise of each project. He pushed me to go beyond my standard explanations. He devoted significant time and intellectual effort to grasp as much as possible in the classroom.

At one point during his second tour of duty in Color Drawing (this time in Intermediate Color Drawing), Marcus turned away from the assignment I gave. We had been working from the model for weeks, and his work was large, energetic, and chromatically intense. Yet one day, out of the blue, he simply set up his easel outside the parachute I’d hung as a barrier to block general views of the model. I had learned to trust him, though I found it somewhat cheeky of him to ignore just about every aspect of the project I’d just assigned. I sat back and watched as the beginnings of what would – eventually – become the foundation of his MFA work began to gestate right before me.

Forgoing the figure, Marcus turned instead to direct perceptual effects. He would not turn back. Light and color, intensely dense and saturated, were the basis of his rigorous investigations. The work (here’s an example) became smaller and, oddly, more spectral. It hovered over the counter-intuitive field of non-focus that forms the basis of all representation. He was seeing through depiction toward an intensity of hue and luminosity that is basically felt rather than taught. It makes perfect sense that he would soon become passionate about Josef Albers (and in particular Albers’ notion of halation). I learned more through witnessing that single aesthetic and educational maneuver than I had in my previous years of teaching combined.

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MarCusPortraitMar Cus (High Waters and Duct Tape)

Charcoal and Pastel on Paper, 30 by 20 inches. 2014.

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Below I’m posting three contemplations on Marcus that I made prior to the portrait above. They were created after a photo I took of Marcus at the Milwaukee Art Museum last year.

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The Sublimity of the Duct Tape Painter (Portrait of Marcus Miers with Tears)

Dimensions variable, 2014. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

 

2014-04-04 22.22.42The Apotheosis of Mar Cus (Portrait of Marcus Miers with a Rocket)

Dimensions variable, 2014. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

1977309_10104000276785119_1550973951_nThe Artist is Absent (Marcus Missing From the Milwaukee Art Museum)

Digital painting, Dimensions variable. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

I am so thankful that Marcus has participated in my life over the years. We have shown work together (more than once). We have traveled together. Next year I will curate an exhibition of his work at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, MO. Knowing Marcus (and his brother Sam) has been so rewarding, so educational, so important. I’m just grateful to get to celebrate him and share the images above with everyone.

On top of it all, it’s his birthday today. So happy birthday, sir. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement.

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To close, here’s a little throwback:

DSC06563Marcus working on one of the last figure drawings he made in Color Drawing. October, 2010.

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Becoming The Student, #14: JJ

I’ve been teaching at The University of Missouri for seven years. In that time I’ve served on many graduate thesis committees and developed a number of great, long-lasting relationships with grads. But it wasn’t until Jane Jun arrived three years ago that I was a “Main Advisor” or “Head of Committee”. The opportunity to work closely with Jane for those years was a huge benefit to me. As Jane progressed through the program she made huge changes in her work and found ways to grow that were both necessary and surprising. She rose to meet difficult challenges when she really needed to. Her thesis work – which dealt with female Asian identity, diaspora/immigration, stereotypes, societal (and personal) expectations, as well as the ways portraiture and self-portraiture have been transformed in recent years – was illuminating and meaningful. Her thesis writing was excellent and was important for me, as the father of an adopted daughter from China, to spend time thinking and dialoguing about on so many levels. It was a privilege to be up close and see all of her work come together.

enchanter-whatgradclassisJJ and me at Shakespeare’s way back in her first year of grad school.

Now JJ is heading back to South Korea to begin her post-grad school life. I have to admit that the annual exodus of grads is hard for me. So much mental and emotional energy goes into working with my students, so much hope and desire for them to do well. Add to that my sentimental nature and you can probably imagine my mindset each May.

2014-05-18 23.02.38JJ and me at our last Shakespeare’s hangout last month. We point off into the heights of a glorious future.

In creating my Becoming the Student portrait of JJ, I wanted to maintain my method – a short session from observation, with only minor changes after the fact – while at the same time celebrating her achievement. I’m glad she agreed to pose in her cap and was willing to maintain a calm – if a tad pensive and sad – expression. If you know anything about her work (click here if not), you know that the seriousness of her pose and quietude of her face here are nothing like what you’d normally see in an image of her.

JJportraitJJ, MFA. Oil on panel, 8 inches in diameter, 2014.

I’ll sure miss her shouting “SIRRRRRR!” when she sees me.

I already do.

Inspiration: Students

I started this blog five years and two days ago, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about it is sharing the work of my students. I never try to over-sell it. Most of my students are not Art majors. Many of them have had very little art-making experience before they take my classes. Yet they always make transformational movements, always end up showing themselves things they never imagined doing. I want to share a few of my Spring 2014 students’ works and words below. They were inspirational to me this semester. All images and words shared with permission.

photo 1Tayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Graphite.

“Everything changed when I walked in this classroom at the beginning of this semester. This class has changed the way I thought of drawing, and even my perspective on life. I found myself more focused and calm when I drew instead of anxious and judged. It helped to bring back this hope and urge to draw that I used to have when I was a little kid and I’m not sure if I can even fully explain what that means to me. What I’ve taken from this class is honestly a little more uncertainty, but I know that’s not a bad thing… I just had thought to myself that I could never be an artist or a musician or a writer. Yet I still draw, still play music, and I still write on that novel I’m almost sure I’ll never finish. I want to go out and appreciate this wonderful gift of life that has been bestowed upon us.” – Tayler Newcomer.
imageTayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 18 by 24 inches, Graphite.
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2014-05-03 16.00.51Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Master Copy after LeRoy Neiman, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
“I want to see things through others’ eyes and be open to change! In the rest of my life I want to keep trying to be slow to anger and quick to love, and care as Jesus would. I pray my life will be a light for people in one way or another!” – Emily Crane.
2014-05-03 15.55.14Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Self Portrait Off Third Base, from a M, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
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image[1]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Colored Pencil.
“If it were not for a sense of the whole I would not be me when I draw my self portraits. I would not be such a pronounced image within the scene that I draw; it is the universe itself that helps pronounce my image. The drawing then has a sense of the whole as well.” – Blessing Ikoro.
image[2]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Study of Busts of Caesar and Apollo, 24 by 18 inches, Charcoal.
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2014-05-03 16.00.58Amanda Bradley, Art Major. Master Copy after Dutch Master, 24 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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2014-05-03 16.00.38Shayna Painter, Business Administration Major. Master Copy after Kupka, 18 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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“The way you see something and the way you experience it are so different. The visual aspect of anything isn’t more important than what you learned from it or now it made you feel.” – Hunter Whitt, Elementary Education Major.
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These young women were just a few of the outstanding students I had this semester. Here’s hoping they continue on with the art impulse.

Becoming the Student #8: Joel T Dugan

Joel T Dugan is an amazing painter and educator who works as a professor at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. A few weeks ago my family had the honor of hosting him for a few days and the time we spent together in the studio were some of the best drawing hours I can remember. Our conversation ranged wide. We spoke of everything from “ignorant faithfulness” to the “chase” aspect of painting. Especially beneficial to me was sharing our experiences in teaching. It was an epic evening.

IMG_0023Portrait of Joel T Dugan, Digital drawing, Dimensions variable. 2014. Created with an Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air.

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On Reality and the Ignorantly Faithful

“In terms of reality… I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the notion of individuality and that how we perceive worth can be so saturated with our own assertions we might experience certain things as so much more impactful than anyone else could.

What do we know? What do we expect? What do we allow to resonate? In my life, so many things have happened – circumstances have aligned themselves, so many nuances have taken place – that you almost wonder if there’s a Suspect at work, something that we might call fate.

But the very notion of fate is so saturated with the hoax-y, with… the ignorantly faithful, those who… allow themselves to… view things in terms of a Divine Plan or Divine Timing while not… taking responsibility for their own choices and motivations. That’s also about not being willing to accept any of the obvious cues that something might not be what we think it is. It’s often a cover up for really not wanting to engage with deep concerns. “

On Perception and Ignorance

“I wonder about perception. I wonder a lot about what truly is valuable. But then you just completely get lost in the kids and it’s always a great release to see that pure innocence and awe. I fear for my kids, that they’ll lose that wonder.”

We’re all subjected to selective ignorance. We utilize that state by default without even knowing it. We’re creatures of comfort in the sense that we love to feel like we’re right. It makes us feel like our efforts are fulfilling, that our existence is poignant.”

On Painting as Existential Chase

“I question myself about the impact of the things that I do, questioning what is the true exchange that takes place when creating art. Being able to share, or even just include, the viewer in the mystique of the work, of that chase… that very much is a kind of lustful relationship. And I just keep thinking to myself that if I could get closer to that same feeling of epiphany, of surprise and recollection that takes place when you struggle with doubts and failures – even after absolute trust and immense security – and you think to yourself ‘I’m a fool. Today is not the day’ so you turn away, put on your coat to leave…. But then you glance back. And you think, ‘That’s not too bad. You know what, with ten more minutes that could really be something.’ And after all the rest of that time it’s almost like you stole it. Almost like you took something that was just a failure and you ripped it from the hands of mediocrity and re-purposed it. If that moment could be shared with everyone you would never have doubt that it was worth it. But how the hell do you do that without just saturating it with your own judgment?”

 On Teaching

“One of the hardest things about teaching is asking people to be both more accepting of judgment and more confrontational with opinion. I just love seeing the light bulb turn on in their heads. You lay the cheese in front of them and they think they found it themselves; that’s when learning how to learn takes place.”

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If you ever get a chance to spend time with Joel, do it. He’s a man of faith, family, and joy. My daughters really fell in love with him and he gave them such positive attention and care. Our youngest, CaiQun, asked, “Can Mr Joel could be a part of our family forever??”

IMG_0521Mr Joel and CaiQun working with the Sensu Brush in ArtRage on Joel’s iPad.

  IMG_0560Joel breaking down one of Eric Norby’s paintings.

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On the Drawing I Made of Him:

“I’m glad you love my head.”

I was blessed to get to hang out with Joel for a few days – everyone is better for a few hours with the guy. Thank you, sir!

Digital Sketching

Following the lead of a number of the people around me (such as Matt Choberka, William Dolan, Chris Fletcher, and Alex Herzog), I’ve begun to do more sketching on tablets. I’ve been working on a Kindle Fire using SketchBook Mobile X.

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Above: A sketch made from drawings and photos of a street scene in Guangzhou, China. This is an iconic tree to me, one that I walked past a dozen times, drew, took photos of, and have thought about many times since our trip in February of 2013. You can even see its foliage on Google images of the street corner where it’s located.

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Above: A sketch from the sculpture Hermes and the Infant Dionysus at the Cast Collection of the University of Missouri. I love the Cast Collection and have taught my students there for all but one of my semesters of teaching here at Mizzou.

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Above: A pile of the foam packaging inserts that accompany desktop Macs while in shipment. I use them as props in my Beginning Drawing and Painting setups.

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Above: A post-it note sculpture that hangs in my studio at the university. One of our friends made it and I love it. I’m sure it will appear in many more drawings and paintings over the years.

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Sorry I’ve not been writing much/at all recently. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet.

The Best Way To Do A Q&A

I gave a couple of talks last week, one for the community at large and one for the teaching symposium held here a few days ago.

Perhaps my favorite part of giving talks/lectures is the Q&A time afterward. I get into it. Here’s an example:

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That’s me in 2008, answering a question at the Glen Arbor Art Association. There I am, totally sun-burned, wine in hand, and in my element.

But I think the best way to answer questions is after my daughters run up to the front of the room and want to be with their dad while he talks:

MCTalk-DadGirls1smallThanks to Shalonda for capturing this image.

Wow. That’s a lot of life lived between the first image and the second.

For the record, Miranda asked a question herself while there in my arms. After looking at the image of one of my paintings up on the screen at the time, she asked, “Dad, don’t you think we should draw more back into that painting?”

No, babe, I think it’s done :)

New Homes

2012 was a good year for selling my work. Many pieces that we’ve lived with for many years are now gone. They live new lives with others. They will, in tandem with these fresh viewers, take on different resonances, build more meanings. Three recent sales in particular are significant to me. What’s interesting to me as an artist is that these works don’t necessarily represent the height of my prowess as a painter or draftsperson (Though I do count Four Pale Bricks as among the most significant paintings I’ve ever made). Nor are these works the end of a particular line of thought or closed, singular achievement. Each was, in some sense, a reaction to different pressures and concerns. They were attempts to understand influences, necessities, desires. They were stepping stones.

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Untitled Landscape (#1), Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 46 inches, 2000. Private collection, MO. Click to view larger.

They are all about different times in my life. The colorful Untitled Landscape (#1) above was made when I was a junior at SAIC. It wasn’t meant to be my own personal expression. I was trying to understand Diebenkorn and integrate his approach to composition and structure. In spite of the derivative quality (something that’s unavoidable for any artist and something that, when embraced, can spark true development) the work displays my growing sense of color and use of mark and mass.

As I packed it up for delivery to its new owners, I was so pleased with the craftsmanship: the bars are still square; the canvas stretched and primed beautifully; the corners wrapped flat and tight. It was that follow-through with the love for the materials at all levels that, I think, made me develop as an artist. I wasn’t just winging it. I was being thoughtfully engaged all the way through. I’m not saying this just to toot my own horn… I’m just proud of the fact that, in spite of myself, I got something about materials, process, and focus that still rings true and gives the work quality.

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Four Pale Bricks, Oil on canvas on panel, 14 by 22 inches, 2006. Private collection, MO. Click to view larger.

The second piece, above, really shows (to me) how my grasp of composition and visual dynamics was affected by combining my early love for Diebenkorn with my research, via Frank Stella’s Working Space, into the formal concerns of the Renaissance. Four Pale Bricks was painted very soon after my return from Italy, a trip that greatly supplemented what I thought I’d learned from Working Space. My encounters there with alchemical pictorial formulas, various numerological/metaphysical theories a la sacred geometry, and the intense formal constructions of everyone from Giotto to Pontormo were extremely influential. In many ways this work was the beginning of my current explorations into two-dimensional shape and angle dynamics as they manifest in illusions of space, air, and light.

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Still Life With Tinfoil, Coal, and Plywood, Graphite on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2007. Private collection, MO. Click to view larger.

This last work – something I shipped out to its new owner just this morning – is all about my having become a teacher. One of the things I believe in most strongly as an educator is that I must model the skills, ideas, and values that I teach. I will never make any impression at all if I merely vomit out vague data; I’ve got to believe it and practice it. This work came about as a challenge from my students, who did not believe the processes I was teaching them would yield positive results. As I drew this work, I took photos and from them produced a short video to demonstrate how it all worked. I have used this example every semester since. The piece is very sentimental to me because of how it embodies my own practice of teaching. I was willing to live out the things I talked about, and that made my students trust me.

Having these three works – and all of the others recently sold – go into the hands of people who appreciate them is wonderful for me. It’s also a reminder that gratification (and appreciation) is often very much delayed. I do work today that may only become appreciated decades from now. That is something that is hard for all artists – we are a notoriously insecure and touchy lot, aren’t we? – but having these works go out into the world is special.

It’s all the more special for me because every dollar from every sale I’ve made over the last year has gone directly into bringing Madeleine Cai Qun home. Now when I think of these artworks, I won’t only consider what they were for me or how they have gone to new homes, but I’ll be able to see in them how they gave my daughter a new home.

That’s a value that is transcendent. I’m thankful that my work as an artist can be a part of that even greater work of manifesting love and peace into the world.

There’s still a few more weeks before we head to China. If you’d like to help out in the final stretch by bringing one of my works into your home, check out my etsy site here.

 

 

Matt Ballou: RANGE – Reception at William Woods University

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My exhibition – Matt Ballou: RANGE – is still up at William Woods University until December 16, 2012. I hope you can go see it if you haven’t yet. Below are some photos of the space, both after the installation and during the reception. I want to thank everyone who came out – friends, students (graduate and undergrad, current and former), and colleagues – and especially Jennifer Sain for her help in making the exhibition happen. Special thanks to Jane Mudd for encouraging William Woods to host this show.

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Installation, back on November 12, 2012.

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Three panoramas of the installed work.

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Two of my all-time favorite works… Locus #77 and #78

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Beautiful angles and shapes during the reception…

At the reception I gave a brief impromptu talk that led into some interesting questions from the audience and my own musing on the work.

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Me during my talk – Photo by Kevin Larson.

Click here to download the talk and Q+A session (42 MB MP3 format, 50 minutes long).

Some notes about the talk:

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Photo of me at the talk – Photo by Eric Norby.

My First Classroom

Click to see a larger view.

Here it is.

My first REAL classroom. I’d done a bit here and there. I’d done some substitution work. I’d done some minor short term stuff. But this was my first place of my own. Room 175 in the The Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University Bloomington. I taught some amazing students there. I cut my teeth, tested my strength, felt out the pace and scope and sequence of teaching. It was good to go back to that room recently – more than 8 years after – and spend time in that space. Snap a picture. Sense the light. Remember the slide of charcoal, the scratch of graphite, and the laughter of willing students.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember why this path I’ve taken is important. In the silent witness of this room there is proof of what I – what so many of us – have tried to express about awareness and presence.

I’m still seeking to be worthy of that task.

Color Drawing, Fall 2012

We’re halfway through another great semester of Color Drawing. Below are just a few examples of some of the standout work from this year. Click for higher res!

Danielle Wallace, Chalk pastel of reflections.

Emily Brewer, Oil pastel study of colored and fluid filled glass.

Emily Brewer, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Jessica Bremehr, Colored pencil study of a lamp.

Jessica Bremehr, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Jessica Bremehr, Chalk Pastel study of reflective surface.

Ginny Algier, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Kevin Moreland, Chalk Pastel self portrait in a reflective surface.

Julie Bennett, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Click HERE to see more of my posts on my Color Drawing class glory!