I am an artist, teacher, writer, husband, dad, believer, dreamer, thinker, seeker who lives in Mid Missouri. This blog records words and images that contain my reflections on my experience of the aforementioned categories.
Every artist needs a person out there in the world who believes in them, no matter what. I know I have a few people like this. I’m very thankful for them. But there’s one guy… he’s like my very own Sam Elliott.
Geo knows just when to email, just how to make a comment, and just the right moment to send support. He’s got a sixth sense for these things. He’s uncommon. He understands the artist’s mindset; hell, he is an artist (a woodcarver of great skill).
And just like The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, Geo has phenomenal advice, otherworldly commentary, and a poetic pace to his missives. We often correspond in waves of evocative side-speak, like two mystics shouting across The Void. Of course, we are mystics (at our best). And there is a void – the vast gulf of internet tubes, and years, and pastel dust, and bricks, and wood shavings.
And Hair. We are of the International Brotherhood of Longhairs. As I wrote back in 2014, Geo has a great mound of flowing gray hair. Soon mine will be as gray as his is. We share the hair. Hair Share.
Recently I received a wonderful package from Geo. It was a real-honest-to-goodness-Geo-original carving. It was a portrait of me based on a drawing I made on the outside of a box full of broken glass! Geo saw it, and he made it real, physical, a true bas-relief of wooden Ballou!
Here it is, in all of its glory:
New office, you say? Yes. I have taken on the job of Director of Undergraduate Studies for Art, a position which involves advising, guiding, and in many other ways aiding our hundreds of undergraduates through their academic careers. It’s been a wild transition to go from only teaching to teaching AND being a go-to administrator of Undergraduate Studies. Luckily I have many helpers, including the amazing Deborah, several folx in the Dean’s office, and Geo.
With their help I’ll do my best to do my duty for God and country… and those undergraduates who need some direction. I can tell that I’ll be memorizing the entire University of Missouri course listing… whew.
With all of this in mind it’s good to know that Geo is there. He’s holding it down for all of us erstwhile hippies, for all us wandering faithful, for all those who receive the scapular.
The Stranger: Take it easy, Dude.
The Dude: Oh yeah!
The Stranger: I know that you will.
The Dude: Yeah, well – the Dude abides. [Exits with beers in hand]
The Stranger: [to the camera] The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.
As we close out 2018 it’s essential that we make lists. MUST. MAKE. LISTS. I’m just kidding. Most lists suck and aren’t particularly illuminating beyond their constructor’s interests. Which is fine. Interest is good. Passion for interests is good… but some pseudo-official “best of” list doesn’t really offer much of anything to anyone.
SO. In lieu of any of that, I wanted to throw out a few of my favorite God Hammers. This isn’t about 2018 in the least… well, it is in the sense that 2018 is when I thought about all of this. The catalyst was the phenomenal limited series podcast by Josh Clark called The End of the World with Josh Clark. You should fire up your chosen pod-reception devices and take it in, because it’s a nice overview of a lot of apocalyptic intensity (follow Josh on Twitter here). I have read/listened to/otherwise become aware of most of what Josh talks about in this series, but his delivery and perspective add to the information in subtle, thoughtful ways. While I was listening, I thought, “Damn, we are gonna need the threat of an Extinction Level Event to get humanity to cooperate on these serious issues… maybe we need a Hammer…”
A Hammer of the Gods, eh? A Hammer of God? A Divine Hammer? Well, let’s see… Here are a few.
1 – The Hammer of the Gods by Steven Davis, 1985.
I was passionate about Zeppelin in my teen years. Among my earliest memories is my dad playing Zeppelin while I clung to his huge Panasonic Thruster floor speakers as a 3 or 4 year old. From age 13 to 18 or so I had those speakers in my room on the second floor of our now-destroyed homestead on Wolcott Hill Road in Camden, NY. That’s where I listened – even after my mom threw out my Zeppelin cassettes.
I was both curious and afraid to read the story behind the Mighty Zepp. Would their debauchery be too much for me? I listened to key tracks while reading the book and found that the context and back-story brought more mystery to the songs rather than diminish it. Ultimately the cacophonous roar of their hammer would fade… yet its ring still permeates music and performance of stardom.
2 – Divine Hammer – from the album Last Splash by The Breeders, 1993.
“I’m just looking for a faith Waiting to be followed. It disappears this near. You’re the rod, I’m water! I’m just looking for One Divine Hammer!”
The Deal twins…. Kim and Kelley, alcohol and heroin, chunky bass and crunching guitars. This album is one of the main sounds of my high school years. There are very few things that remind me of smoking and – momentarily – make me want a smoke, but one is the opening of this album… Watch this document of early 90’s slacker-cool:
Now we arrive at the real deal, a novel by one of the great artist-scientists of the 20th century, Arthur C. Clarke. I read this shortly after high school while working a job cleaning mall parking lots in the middle of the night – the perfect time for existential dread. Here’s the basic run down: A big space rock is going to hit us. If we don’t cooperate there won’t be any earth – or life for that matter – to continue our petty squabbles about. We figure something out, but the religious nuts mess up the plan… so our hero has to step in with a fun little last minute intervention to save humanity.
There you have it. The Hammer of metal excess. The Hammer of doubt-laced-seeking. The Hammer of an indifferent cosmos. Go listen to Josh tell you all about the End of the World, and feel free to round our your experience with one of the items listed above. You’ll enjoy it.
The current crew of Color Drawing (ART_DRAW 2210) at Mizzou is doing some really nice stuff. I’ve incorporated a number of new variations of my projects, including adding in black lights, new constructed forms, and modified instructions for several Prompts and Assignments.
A project that I started last semester, the Tinfoil Self Portrait, has returned. This time I chose to let the students work in whatever size they chose, so I got a wide array of aspect ratios and scales.
The Master Copy projects were quite wonderful this year, and students drew from many eras of art history. I have also encouraged students who work in Digital Storytelling, Graphic Design, or Interior Design to use significant artists from those arenas as well.
The works my students create when they look at great works of art and copy them are not mere transcriptions. In undertaking the effort to create a version of a masterwork, the students must ask themselves important questions continuously. These interrogations about composition, color, material density and structure, and a whole slew of other issues, all serve to increase the students’ visual and physical IQ.
My Color Drawing 2 students work primarily with Prompts, which are designed to take them on a journey through questioning and challenging their assumptions. Without showing you the whole track of artworks it would be hard to demonstrate their developmental trajectories, but it has been encouraging to watch. While all of my Fall 2018 Color Drawing 2 students have made some very interesting stuff, Amanda Doyle and Mitch Feyerherm, have made strange and exciting works that have made the most of the personal investigations that the Prompts are meant to encourage.
Overall my students have taken some amazing strides this year. I’m pleased that my own drive to meet them and challenge them has continued to be strong. Here’s to many more years!
The second iteration of an exhibition exploring trends in contemporary abstract art is now on view at Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Elder Gallery. The first version of the show took place last year at The University of Missouri and the exhibition will travel again in 2019 and 2020.
The main change in this 2018 version is that additional artists have been added, moving the roster up to 20 individuals – 13 women and 7 men. The works have also grown in diversity, with more sculpture, assemblage, photography, and fibers works entering the constellation.
This show centers on the work of Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito. A constellation of 17 other artists appear in this view into contemporary abstraction, and their work incorporates Painting, Drawing, Digital Drawing, Photography, Fibers, Assemblage, Collage, Sculpture, Relief carving, and other forms.
Sarah Arriagada, Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, Gianna Commito, Ryan Crotty, Joel T. Dugan, Dan Gratz, Michael Hopkins, Erin King, Kristen Martincic, Marcus Miers, Hali Moore (Oberdiek), Justin Rodier, Elise Rugolo, Amanda Smith, Lauren Steffens, Sumire Taniai, Jm Thornton, and Jennifer Ann Wiggs have work in this exhibition. Click on their names to see their websites and find out more about their work.
As you can see from the exhibition listing at NWU’s website, I’ll be at the gallery on December 7 to talk about the show and answer questions. I’ll also spend some time meeting with students and engaging with the school community. I love the chance to spend time in the space with the work and field questions in the moments of viewer experience. The works are meant to be seen, interpreted, and extrapolated.
These few views can’t really give you a true impression of the show. I hope if you’re nearby you’ll stop in. My efforts to curate interesting collections of works are definitely becoming more and more important to me as an artist and educator. Particularly, with an exhibition such as this one, I am afforded the chance to expand and contract a specific intellectual and aesthetic gesture. I find that tremendously exciting. This iteration of the Restraint and Limitation show is probably the most expansive version that will happen, so it’s intriguing to sense how constrained it still feels. I am passionate about small works that distill meaning and experience, defying long-held notions about what art is supposed to do.
To close out this announcement post, here’s the bit of writing I had affixed to the title wall:
The logic of abstraction cannot be reduced to a few dudes painting in mid-20th century America. This exhibition is meant to present another view. Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito, the three core artists presented here, show commitment to the aesthetics and procedures inherent in abstract painting while bringing diverse pressures, materials, and processes to the form.
Examples of various line manifestations from my foundations drawing course.
I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds of students beginning observational drawing methods for over a decade at Mizzou. This is something I’ve been stimulated, encouraged, and challenged by. It’s wonderful to be a part of an ancient tradition.
One of the main points of the first few weeks of my Drawing: Materials and Methods course (foundations level drawing for beginning students) is the notion that line, in and of itself, doesn’t make an illusion of space (fig. A). Rather, value – the quality of light and dark – creates a perception of space (fig. B, C). To develop value we accumulate lines, adjust pressure on the tool, or blend the material with which we’re drawing (among other actions) in order to attenuate or amplify the line quality. The coalescing lines form a varied superstructure representing – in 2D form – the perception we have of 3D space (fig. D). These and many other lessons are certainly intuitive and, though they are not an exclusive method, do help novices recognize space and how to translate it. The first few drawings my students make are centered around these concepts. It was Professor William Itter’s Fundamental Studio Drawing text that I used in developing my own pacing, scope, and sequence in the teaching of Beginning Level drawing.
At Indiana University, Itter was a strong force. Having taught there for more than 35 years when he retired in 2009, Bill crafted and then honed a foundational drawing system that influenced me and many of my fellow grads. Over the years a number of the projects he either developed or adapted have been a part of my teaching. In particular, I have been inspired by his Cornice Combo and Linear Topographic Contour projects. Most of us ended up with physical copies or PDF prints of Bill’s collection of projects and syllabus materials (pictured above).
I think you can see the through-line of intention when you see Bill’s project examples and compare them to what I do in class. While I no longer directly reference Professor Itter’s text, it is a strong part of the pedagogical lineage I claim as an educator. Below you can see some of Itter’s Radial and Lateral Extensions, which were influential in my own Atmospheric Beams project.
Atmospheric Beams by Robert McAnelly. 18×24 inches.
Of all of the various projects crafted by Bill that I used back in the early days, only three are truly and deeply connected to my foundations drawing teaching today. Of primary importance is Meandering Band, as well as the aforementioned Atmospheric Beams. You can see that Professor Itter’s example images are still being reiterated through time in the work of my students.Notice how this Cornice Combo image relates to my recent students’ Meandering Band works:
Meandering Band by Hannah Westhoff. 18×24 inches, graphite on paper.
Professor Itter used many examples of gradients in his projects, and he began by asking students to conceptualize line quality through the idea of space and physical pressure upon the tool (at least that’s how I integrated his ideas into my thinking). So sample studies from Itter such as this one (which I use as a first class ice breaker project)…
…translate into more formal Meandering Band works such as this:
Meandering Band by Katie O’Russa. 18×24 inches, graphite on paper.
Meandering Band by Seth Steinman. 24×18 inches, graphite on paper.
My ultimate aim in carrying on a very truncated version of Bill’s foundational drawing projects is really an attempt to establish the importance of observational iteration in my classes. All of my classes are, at their deepest center, about attention and awareness. My hope is that continuing to use a few of Professor Itter’s projects my students gain an understanding of what their eyes are doing in the world. The way we amalgamate visual and material structures into meaningful ideas is part of what makes us human. Now that we are living in an age where algorithms designed to manufacture our purchasing consent drive much of our cultural events and expressions, it is so important to grow in our awareness of how we are being manipulated by these systems. This understanding begins with a knowledge of visual dynamics and the ability to take command of how our eyes operate. I think Itter knew this when he created his foundational drawing projects, and I try to bring that tradition of thoughtfulness into the 21st century.
Miranda Grace helping me with my large mural project, 2018.
My first born child is a spitfire eight year old. She’s great at math. She’s dramatic and feels all the things SUPER intensely. She’s a very good swimmer (winning some heats locally) and is the unequivocal leader of her siblings. She loves horseback riding, Transformers, and Narnia. She has always been a passionate creator; she’s burned through reams of paper and thousands of pens, pencils, and markers. She LOVES joining me in the studio. Recently she helped me out with a large mural I’m working on. She’s a pretty amazing kid. Here’s some of her recent work:
Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on cardboard, 24×18 inches, 2018.
Miranda has started to get very interested in symmetry and creating katywompus abstractions based on a kind of ‘across the surface’ balance. I really like these. Here are a few more.
Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 20×23 inches, 2018.
Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 6×13 inches, 2018.
Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on panel, 16×20 inches, 2018.
My daughter is also very much into working with fabrics and paper. She creates books – stories of every day events – and illustrates them. She makes games, and cuts out all of the pieces and creates the rules. She has made costumes, crowns, and jewels – all out of paper. Cardboard boxes have become space ships and forts. Recently she created – totally unprompted and with (as far as I can tell) no context – a sort of paper and fabric piece that functions as both a wall hanging and a skirt. Check it out.
The front side is pictured here on the left. The verso is on the right. When I was taking these photos she was annoyed that I wanted to take a picture of the back, but it’s amazing. She’s using staples to hold layers of various fabrics, paper, adhesive stickers and sheets, as well as post-it notes and tissue paper together. When hanging, she says it’s titled The Straightened Skirt. In this form it’s about 50 by 10 inches in size. Here’s Miranda modeling it in skirt mode:
Anyway, I think she’s pretty awesome. Each of my kiddos has been inspirational, and I expect they will all eventually have their own spot on my blog. I’m so thankful for these kids and their creativity and powerful presence in my life. They have made my work and teaching so much more rich and strange.
This summer I’ve been doing a lot of work – writing, project formulating, and making. But one needs to incorporate play into the process. Often hanging with my kiddos helps with that, but it’s been horrifically hot recently… so I’ve been in the basement. After taking a year or so off, I’ve gotten back into my LEGOs as a form for creative construction, both in terms of “serious” art and as a means to recharge with play.
Anyway, stick around here if you want to see the latest Star Trek themed ships I’ve made. To see some of the current direction in my artworks, see my Instagram.
Back in 2014, I had been trying to develop a LEGO version of a Chariot Class Starship. Check out the blueprints here, and my old post about the craft. Now, the Chariot Class is a non-canon ship, but it just looks so cool that I wanted to try it out. Finally, I got around to it. This was partly through the influence of my fellow FODS who view The Greatest Generation Podcast. Their encouragement of my embarrassing creations caused me to redouble my efforts. See below.
In the coming days I’ll add a few more of my newer ships to subsequent posts. If you’d like to look back at previous ships I’ve made, see these:
Chris Hall – Thrustmasters. Oil on panel, 7×10 inches, 2012.
Chris Hall is a great guy. He’s a solid dude. He’s easy to get along with, to talk about Dune with, to consider the pros and cons of kayfabe with, and to think about art with. Back in 2011 Chris came into the MFA program at Mizzou and quickly stood out. Not only was he a good painter with interesting ideas, he was also willing to let his assumptions go to grow. His thesis work was among the strangest and most unique I’ve had the privilege to see. Check out his ongoing work at his website.
Chris has the unique ability to draw out both mirth and serious, intense thought in those around him. I’ve loved partying with him over the years, and I look forward to more fun in the future.
Above: Chris as Nosferatu and me as Igor in a drawing I made… this is how we party, people. Ballou digital drawing, 2017.
I have two artworks from Chris in my home. The first, Thrustmasters, is at the top of this post. And here is an untitled fridge interior from around the same time – 2012 or 2013, just as Chris was moving into his Thesis work.
Chris Hall- Untitled Fridge Interior (Vampiric Food). Oil on panel, 7×10.5 inches, 2013.
Chris is one of my favorite subjects for illustration (I’ve drawn caricatures of my friends, family, and students for many years). Not to be outdone, Chris had me pose for a number of his paintings early on, and those sessions are some of my favorite moments in academia!
Me posing for Chris… meme-ified.
Chris shaking his groove thang… Ballou digital drawing, 2016.