The Range Book

My new book, Range: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints ~ 2000-2012, is now available for purchase!

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Back at the end of 2012 I had a solo exhibition at William Woods University. You can read about it and see some images from the reception here. It was a fantastic experience, and I am grateful to Jane Mudd and Jennifer George-Sain for inviting me to present my work there. It really was a resounding success.

I coordinated with William Woods to create a catalog of the exhibition that would present all of the work that was on display, as well as numerous additional artworks that couldn’t be included in the show but which have bearing on the overarching themes and formal ideas with which I was working.  On top of the dozens of images it contains, the book features a series of short texts by me, as well as an introductory piece by the William Woods Gallery Coordinator Jennifer George-Sain. My mini-essays are designed to introduce the different shifts in my production and explain how the different series of work can be understood together. The title of the show, Range, really says it all; there has always been a broad range in my approach to artmaking. In spite of this, all of the pieces contain important threads that tie them together, and this book allows me to briefly introduce those connections and celebrate well over a decade of vibrant, productive time.

This full color book is 192 pages long and features many detail images that highlight special passages in certain artworks. It’s a pretty nice book.

Now here’s the special deal: I know the book is expensive. When you click over to the bookstore from the link below you’ll see just how expensive. But I am going to offer a hand-made, original mandala to everyone who provides proof of purchase. Let me say that again: for the price you pay you don’t just get the book, you get an original work of art as well.

You may be asking just what sort of artwork are we talking about? The pieces will be unframed works on paper featuring a mandala. When you send me your proof of purchase (the receipt that comes with the order or a picture of you holding your copy of the book, etc), I’ll provide you with some examples of what pieces are available and you can choose your own work. Each piece will be made on a piece of high quality fine art paper that is approximately 9 by 9 inches square (give or take a bit). Obviously since these are mandalas the works will be circular but the paper itself will be square. Each piece will be made in one or more of the following media: acrylic, oil, chalk pastel, oil pastel, colored pencil, graphite, and gouache. If you’d like to see a few examples of the type of works I’m describing, click here, here, and here.

If you’re interested, click the image below to see the book purchase page:

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If you make a purchase, feel free to email me at balloum (at) missouri (dot) edu to find out how to get your artwork.

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The Medium Is The Message?

I watched a video of Marshall McLuhan talking about his famous “The Medium is the Message” concept yesterday. It set me off on a short collection of thoughts/reflections on Facebook and I’ve decided to transfer them over here.

“It doesn’t much matter what you say on the telephone (i.e. in any particular drawing/painting/sculpture/etc). The telephone as a service (form) is a huge environment (i.e. an historical/physical/epistemological context). And that is the medium. And the environment (the historical/physical/epistemological context) affects everybody; what you say on the telephone (in any particular drawing/painting/sculpture/etc) affects very few. The same with radio or with any other medium. What you print (write, draw, paint, sculpt, perform, etc) is nothing compared to the effect of the printed word (historical/physical/epistemological context of the form). The printed word (historical/physical/epistemological context) sets up a paradigm, a structure of awareness which affects everybody in very, very drastic ways, and it doesn’t matter very much what you print (write, draw, paint, sculpt, perform, etc) as long as you go on in that form of activity.”

– Marshall McLuhan (with parenthetical clarification for artists by me), from a 1977 appearance on Australian TV.

That is, saying “the medium is the message” is too simple. It’s more than that. It’s not only the fact that I, for instance, create a painting using oil paint. It’s also my biology, the fact of the intellectual traditions I’m a part of, and the context within which I’m moving that form a “medium” every bit as real as the paint. If I make a drawing the medium is not merely graphite or pastel – it’s also my neurology, my physicality, my perceptual structure (i.e. my eye and how it’s been trained to see), and the intersubjective array that interpenetrates my experience.

As artists we have to be aware of all of that to the best of our ability, not merely the choices of drawing/painting/sculpture media or the facts of their history. Those aspects are extremely important but they are not the whole story. The work as an event participates in the history of those media environments but it is not necessarily collapsed into them. This is because my painting is not only “painting” or “acrylic” or “figurative” or “symbolic” or “perceptual” it is also riding on the medium of the white, Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking, Judeo-Christian, western-intellectual-tradition-saturated, 6-foot-tall, meat-eating, heterosexual, mystic that I am. Sometimes taking all of THAT into account in the work means that the mere fact that the work is made with acrylic paint isn’t all that front-loaded as a structure of meaning. Maybe the fact of observational perception is front-loaded. Maybe the fact of archetypal symbology is front-loaded. Maybe the fact of biologically-induced geometry is front-loaded. Maybe any other element will be front-loaded.

I’m not super convinced by all that McLuhan said because he seemed to collapse the histories of all media into his interpretation of modern communications media (or rather that’s what we’ve done with his ideas). That in itself shows the limitations of his view. Yes, what he said was – and still is – important, particularly to people who are studying art. But we must realize that the realm of “medium” is actually much larger than what McLuhan was thinking of when he made his iconic declaration. Let’s not be too quick to disqualify work that is predicated upon “media” other than whatever might be considered a standard form in which a work may be made. Ultimately, all work is connected to deeper and more innate structures of being, awareness, and manifestation that, in themselves, form a contextual core for human expression. My eye, my motor cortex, my accumulating worldview; each of these and many other factors are every bit media through which a work is conveyed on its way to material presentation. Yes, the medium is the message, but the medium is broader and more various than we might think at first glance.

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Above: Angular Momentum (Asymmetrical Mandala 03), 9 by 9 inches, colored pencil, oil stick, and oil pastel on paper, 2013.

Tondo Mandalas Find a Home in Texas

One of my former graduate students, Sloane Snure Paullus, lives in The Lone Star State and her family picked up a couple of my mandala tondos. Here’s the evidence:

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Check out that green JFK bust! Booom!

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I’m just honored to get to have my work in such close proximity to that chandelier, those lamps, and that rug! Nice interior design, Sloane!

A Question of Balance

Dedicated to George, who introduced me to A Question of Balance in the mid-80s.

~

It is interesting what stays with us from the early years of life. Seemingly banal or incidental elements can mysteriously transmogrify into certain means of grace. And grace is always strange.

It follows then that these grace-laden elements might be loaded with weirdness or saturated with some slow-acting agent of unforeseen change. Of course, that’s part of why the grace that has touched my life is different from the grace that’s touched yours. So often what is tremendously meaningful to one heart seems trivial, shallow, or just plain boring to others. Sometimes what changes me forever would do nothing to the person right next to me.

Nowhere is that fact more apparent than in the music with which we fill our lives. The bands we become attached to, what songs move us, or which albums are soundtracks to our personal transformations are usually radically different for everyone. Everyone seems to have a different constellation of sounds, a different set of aural landmarks. When we do find someone who shares our deep connection to a piece of music there’s instant rapport. When we encounter those who seem unable to grasp the importance of our historical tracklist we can find ourselves incensed.

With that preface let me say that A Question of Balance is one of the major musical touchstones of my life. Released in 1970 by The Moody Blues, Question is, for me, one of the most significant works of art to which I’ve been exposed. It is strange. It is bombastic. It is epic. It is philosophical. It risks existential engagement. It tries to take on everything. It is critical of our default positions. It asks us if this world we’ve made is really what we want. Before I knew much of anything about the wider world, I was connecting with the introspective spiritual and societal quandaries the band was dealing with in this classic concept album.

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If you are aren’t familiar with the record and want to experience it you can listen to the whole thing here.

Hearing Question as a child was one of the things that would, by the time I was 13 or 14 years old, initiate in me a long-term investigation into the nature of meaning and experience. The sorts of questions the record poses set me off on what has been a lifetime of learning and intellectual exploration. It was a means of grace to me simply because it stimulated me to contemplate those bigger existential concerns that so often get drowned in the machinations of everyday life. Question, along with a number of other factors, created an ongoing state of contemplation in me that helped me avoid many of the pitfalls of adolescence.

There are a thousand things I could say about this record. Like how those jangling guitars at the opening of the album can instantly return me to George’s old golden/mustard/brown Dodge and the smell of propane. Like how the album’s assertions went with Chris and me on our adventures northward so many times. Like how its words were a reminder of the feeling of home as I ventured out across the country in my twenties. The sounds and questions and arguments of A Question of Balance accompanied me on many late nights in the studio, on the road, in contemplation, in worry, in joy.

I could spend time exploring any of those avenues, but there’s one aspect of Question that has really reverberated within me over the years. A major theme of the record amounts to acknowledging the relational consciousness that transcends obsessive, hyper-individualism. This one thread, running throughout the entire record but focused in one particular track, was definitely a seed that found good soil in me.

Below you can read the major content of that single track. Called The Balance (click here to listen to it), it is the last song on the album and is comprised mostly of Mike Pinder’s spoken word recitation of a poem co-written by Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas.

After he had journeyed,

And his feet were sore,

And he was tired…

He came upon an orange grove.

 

And he rested.

 

And he lay in the cool.

And while he rested

He took to himself an orange, and tasted it.

 

And it was good.

 

And he felt the earth to his spine

And he asked…

 

And he saw the tree above him…

And the stars… and the veins in the leaf… and the light… and the balance

 

And he saw

Magnificent Perfection.

Whereon, he thought of himself in balance –

And he knew he was.

~

And he thought of those he angered, for he was not a violent man.

And he thought of those he hurt, for he was not a cruel man.

And he thought of those he frightened, for he was not an evil man.

 

And he understood…

He understood himself.

 

Upon this, he saw

That when he was of anger

Or knew hurt

Or felt fear

It was because he was not understanding

 

And he learned Compassion.

And with his eye of Compassion,

He saw his enemies like unto himself.

And he learned Love.

Then, he was answered.

The tired wayfarer of the poem gains perspective from the Common Grace embedded in the world around him. He relishes the coolness of the orange grove, the simple pleasure of tasting the orange, and – suddenly – the glorious awareness of the Great Order that is before him and beyond him, yet is also permeating him. As he pays attention to the tree, the stars, the leaf, and the light his growing perspective and awareness coalesce into a unifying understanding. The traveler experiences what could be seen as the state of consciousness called Savikalpa Samadhi (something which has more recently been termed The Overview Effect) and he is fundamentally changed in his relationship to other human beings.

Suddenly he’s not obsessing about his rugged individualism any more; he’s thinking of others:

And he thought of those he angered…

And he thought of those he hurt…

And he thought of those he frightened…

Thinking of others – believing that they actually exist and are valuable. Considering others – imagining how your words, actions, or attitudes impact them. Revolutionary ideas, right? But it doesn’t stop there. The journeyman turns his new-found perspective on himself and starts to see that being enslaved to anger and hurt and fear displayed his lack of understanding. In fact, it showed his inability to understand at all apart from a revelation from beyond himself. Realizing this, and sensing his necessary reciprocity with the rest of humanity, our traveler learns compassion. That is, in giving up his self-determined privileged position he can no longer feel superior to or more valuable than those around him. He can, in acknowledging and respecting their value, live out a higher value in himself.

All of this can be passed off as trite, sure. It can be dismissed as sentimental, unrealistic, or melodramatic. It can be ignored as the cheesy platitudes of a bunch of hippies. Sure. But it can also be seen as aligned with the heritage of the great faith and wisdom traditions that have been passed down to us, traditions that certainly inspired the band while creating this album.

I know it’s all more complex than this. I can see how The Balance can come off simplistic and hokey. I know that real change and real meaning require more than a singular experience, more than surge of feeling… but there is something important here, something worth declaring, worth believing. Rejecting sentiments such as those contained in Question seems like such a shallowly postmodern thing to do.  What have cynicism and petty ideological divides gotten us? I guess I’d rather stand in awe with the kitschy hippies than smirk in conceit with those who would disdain words – however sentimental – supporting basic human dignity and value.

~

Post Script:

My experience of A Question of Balance is a demonstration of Joseph Kupfer’s ideas about the inherent moral component of experiencing art. You can read more about this concept here.

The album is certainly worth buying and grappling with. Purchase it at iTunes or Amazon.

 

First Morning Home

There will be other days to write and reflect on what we have done, how far we’ve traveled, and what is sticking with us… But today, just a simple sketch of my new daughter sleeping in her new bed in her new house.

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Remembering the Shapes and Textures of China

In just a few hours we’ll be leaving the People’s Republic of China. We are ready; home and friends and family call to us.

Right now, though, CaiQun sleeps nearby. She has no way of realizing how much her life will change. We don’t either. As I looked into her eyes tonight, giving her a final bed-time bottle in her native land, I thought about how rich and beautiful and strange and amazing her country of  birth is. We leave it, and hope to return. She is beginning an amazing journey. I’m priveledged to go on it with her, for at least this part.

As we depart China, I again make a post that features some (for me) lasting images of this Land. Two and a half weeks is certainly not enough time to really know much of anything about a country, but we will be forever changed by what we’ve seen, heard, felt, and known here. These images are just part of the rememberance I’ll take with me.

Enjoy. Click to enlarge. Visit China. Hear her sounds and see her sights. Love her people and acknowledge her history.

We’re a part of this world.

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