I am an artist, teacher, writer, husband, dad, believer, dreamer, thinker, seeker who lives in Mid Missouri. This blog, which I began in 2009, records words and images that contain my reflections on my experiences in this life.
Please browse the various areas in the menu above – my adventures in China and at Ox-bow have been pretty important to who I have become. Additionally, my heart attack was a watershed event that produced radical changes in my art and life.
Last month marked ten years of writing posts and posting pictures here. In most ways this site has become my de facto artist website rather than a space to post observations and non-art stuff. Kind of lame, I know. But I’ve had a personal website (and domain) for almost 22 years and I have administered it in a lot of different ways. But at some point – particularly after getting deep into full time teaching – I decided to lay aside HTML and CSS and private hosting.
I still have all of those older versions of my websites. Sometimes I browse them from their resting places inside my hard drives. I think about the effort and consideration that went into them. Thankfully I never committed the Geocities and Angelfire design atrocities… maybe WordPress is just the more contemporary version of those gaudy old things, I don’t know.
I have not written much in 2019. It has been a hard, strange year – emotionally, professionally, physically.
Physically, I have been sick and run down a lot this year. The medications I take to manage my heart disease are rough, and they constrain my metabolism and energy level; I have fallen asleep without wanting to a number of times this year. Though I work out every single day, my endurance seems to be sliding lower and lower. Normally I teach a course or two over the summer, but the reality is that I know I couldn’t keep up with that at this point. There’s more to say… but I won’t.
Professionally, while I’m not sure exactly where my artwork is going, I have a good body of work underway and am getting it out for people to see. I was recently promoted to Full Teaching Professor, which is the terminal rank in the Teaching Line. It took nine years to achieve. I feel secure and thankful for Mizzou, but there are a lot of pressures that rest on the shoulders of professors in a time when Universities are trying to do more with less. As someone who understands the importance of mental and physical health, well, those pressures can be life-threatening. I know that being an educator is not just time spent with students. If it were, I think I’d generally feel much better. God knows that I am still encouraged by being in the classroom – each and every time.
Emotionally, I don’t think I am the same after the heart attack. My general affect, emotional intelligence, and responses were dulled significantly. After two years it seemed that I had returned to normal. But have I? In 2012 I had a pretty major crisis of faith – one that corresponded with the onset of depression. There were other factors during the period of time between 2012 and 2015… then 2016 came with the death of my sister and my cardiac arrest mere days later. There have been a number of other things in the 3 and half years since then that have made impacts as well. Perhaps I am being changed by the medications and the inertia of routines… At least I am getting joy from working on LEGOs with my kids.
The exhibition features older work based in personal and spiritual conflict. One such piece is from 2001, created along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan amid the reverie of a pre-social-media world. A number of the large drawings were begun in 2006 and 2007 behind the apartment we rented on Elmwood Avenue in Evanston, Illinois. Little did I know then that those works would find their completion more than a decade later in Mid Missouri after many iterations.
All of the works represent my ongoing attempt to picture the impossible spaces created by our collective unwillingness to constrain power, war, greed, consumerism, and ignorance – in ourselves and in society at large. Whether using documentary photos and videos or inventing from the history of the human form as a zone of violent incidence, I attempt to make plain the foolishness of conflict, oppression, and war.
At the reception event for this exhibition, I gave a talk and took questions from the audience. I present that talk here as a video, which features many images of the works on display and a number of photos taken during the reception event.
Here you can watch the video I’ve uploaded to YouTube. I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions you have – hell, I’ll even respond with more details if you ask me any!
The recent work coming out of my color drawing students is phenomenal. They are thinking around my assignments, participating with the materials, and generally making leaps and bounds into understanding the physical properties of pastel and colored pencil (among other things).
Here are just a few of their amazing works this semester.
The last few weeks have been pretty intense. Sickness, heavy schedules to manage, deadlines to meet, presentations to give, paintings to complete and ship out… I’ve been overloaded.
Last week, though, I decided to step away from my “responsibilities” for a few hours and work with my oldest kiddo to make a new birdhouse/birdfeeder.
She created the designs for the outside and made the primary choices for how the finished house would look. We talked about how birds would access the house, where food would be, and how we would like to be able to see the ornithological engagement from the comfort of our living room.
Next came the fabrication. I handled the big saw cutting to assure the pieces were proper size, and then I cut the angles for the pentagonal house to fit together. Miranda did some of the chop saw work and she absolutely doing the gluing and brad gunning. She wanted to get her very own brad gun (Alison said no)!
After everything was settled and we gave it a night to dry, we put it in place. It’s an epic birdhouse/feeder combo just right for the Ballou Homestead.
I am sure we’ll get some great bird visitors over to Miranda’s construction soon – maybe even a couple will stay. In any case, however, I know it was a few hours better spent in making memories and helping Miranda grow more confident with ideas, creativity, and tool use than it would have been in filling out forms or doing some administrative task.
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.