The Protests at The University of Missouri

As many around the country and around the world are aware, this past week at Mizzou has been harrowing. It was a week that culminated in the ouster of both the MU System President and the Chancellor. On Monday, before the strange, terrifying days that followed, many classes were let out in solidarity with #ConcernedStudent1950 and Jonathan Butler. I told my students that I’d be down on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle to witness the events. I decided that I would undertake a drawing to commemorate the day.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.06.51 PM Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.06.46 PMAbove are two shots of me at work, the first by my colleague and former student Jacob Maurice Crook (Adjunct Professor at Mizzou), the second by one of my graduate students, Jeff Markworth (MFA Candidate, 2016). I was also photographed by local media, and one of those shots can be seen here.

I’ll leave the commentary to other voices. My purpose in all of this is to remain an ally for my students while representing Mizzou well and encouraging the change it needs to see.

Here’s the drawing I made. It’s not as refined as I’d like, nor is it my normal thing to do subject matter like this. But it was a good exercise, and a good day to be present and aware.

November92015“An Historic Day on Carnahan Quad: November 9, 2015.” Pastel on paper, 28 by 44 inches. Click for enlargement.

A Grateful Visit

I began my undergraduate art career at Munson Williams Proctor Institute of Art, the Upstate New York extension campus of Pratt Institute. After working for a while after high school, I realized that I would not be happy if I didn’t at least try the art path. PrattMWP was the start of a long journey.

I don’t get back east often. Between family, teaching, and creative necessities I hadn’t visited my alma mater there in Utica, NY for a decade. This past summer, though, I decided a trip to the campus and museum was a must.

IMG_2013Courtyard outside the main buildings.

IMG_2014Big sign at the entrance to the main studio building.

I had massively important experiences in these buildings, on these grounds. I had professors – like Lisa Gregg-Wightman and Greg Lawler – who believed in me and inspired me. Lisa, in particular, was key to my growing sense that I really could make a life as an artist. I recall one midterm review with Lisa when I sort of stepped out of the present for a moment and realized that she was speaking to me as if I really were an artist. As if I had a valid place at the table. As if my thoughts and opinions were worth hearing. I’m really grateful to her for guiding me in that way, and I’ve tried to function that way myself as an educator.

IMG_2020A student drawing hung in the hallway at PrattMWP.

IMG_2017A student painting near a stairwell.

IMG_2023A fantastic student figure study.

IMG_2024I remember doing drawings just like this while at PrattMWP in the late ’90s.

Though I couldn’t access some of the most important rooms – Printmaking, Painting, Drawing – where my skills were developed and my imagination first fired, I was able to roam those halls again. To climb the steps, feel the air, and see again the views through those windows. Sure, I’m sentimental; we all are, if we’re honest.

I couldn’t have known the adventure I was starting there at MWPAI 18 years ago. Getting to walk around the place 18 years later is gratifying. I’m grateful.

EVOKE at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center

I’ve had the great pleasure to curate a little exhibition currently on view at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center, a space that I’ve been consulting for and have really enjoyed working with over the last year and a half or so. On Tuesday, September 1st, the gallery will host a reception for the show.


I hope you can join us for this event. The works I’ve selected were created by a few young artists that really highlight the diversity of perspective that is present in our community. All three of these individuals were or are students at the University of Missouri where I have taught since 2007.


Detail of a work by Sumire Taniai.


Detail of a painting by Kelsey Westhoff.


Detail of a drawing by Simon Tatum.

I chose these artists not only for the ways their work stirs up interesting moods and thoughts, but also because they represent the different places, directions, and sources that artists use. Taniai is Japanese-American, a strong woman who uses her paintings and drawing to delve into the complex relationships between fathers and daughters. Tatum uses his Cayman Island heritage to explore how colonialism and sublimated history may be brought to the surface in singular, distinctive ways. Westhoff’s paintings deploy the aesthetics of apps and filters familiar to anyone who uses a smartphone, and in them she treads the line between affectation and sincerity. All in all these young artists show the vigor of painting and drawing in the 21st century, providing viewers with avenues that illuminate history, identity, relationships, and meaning.


LEGO Stephen Hawking

Back in 2008 Jason Kottke created a LEGO version of Stephen Hawking. Over the years this construction (called in LEGO parlance, a “build”) took on a life of its own, and has probably now been seen on every computer in existence that is connected to the internet. It was even available on as a kit for a while (I think this was a version 2.0 build).

I figured it was time for me to create my own LEGO Stephen Hawking, so take a look below. I decided to deviate quite a bit from Kottke’s, particularly in the construction of the chair. Hawking has had quite a few different chairs over the years, and many different configurations of the hardware he’s got installed. I tried to make a combination of various chairs. For the body I followed Kottke’s instructions, but I’m in the midst of a second version that takes a different approach to some of the body form.

Anyway, I hope you like it. If any of our heroes is worth being immortalized in LEGO, it’s Hawking.

Photo Jul 21, 4 15 03 PM

Photo Jul 21, 5 09 11 PM

Photo Jul 21, 5 10 09 PMPhoto Jul 21, 5 16 50 PM

Photo Jul 21, 4 11 54 PM

Another Day, Another Dangle – Neil Gavett

Neil Gavett is a well-known model for artists in central Missouri, and has worked with basically all of the art departments in the area (click here for an earlier piece about him). In September 2015 he’ll have been working primarily as an art model for 20 years. That’s major commitment to the craft, something Neil describes as “another day, another dangle.” Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Neil in many classes and have enjoyed his hospitality. Neil loves to facilitate shared experiences. In April of 2014 I got to visit him and share a lengthy conversation over an amazing meal (steak and shiitake mushrooms in a bourbon-based sauce) and several choice beverages (rum!). It was quintessential Neil, and I hope you can get a small sense of the depth and intensity of what it means to spend a couple hours with the man through the snippets of dialogue from that day that I share below.

neil2014image1Portrait of Neil Gavett: Another Day, Another Dangle. Gouache on paper, 14×11 inches, 2014.

On Cooking With Mushrooms

“Shiitakes are pretty hard to mess up.”

On Spiritual Plugs

“I remember the first time I heard that phrase about ‘many forms of electricity’: you know, something along the lines of, ‘it doesn’t matter which plug in the house you use, you’re jacking into the same thing.’ That was back when I first read Phillip K Dick and had been taking a lot of theology classes. At the time a friend of mine was reading Illusions by Richard Bach. My friend was so excited about it he drove four hours home from college and gave the book to me, saying I had to read it. It’s a book talking about the power of visualization – that the crisper the visualization is in the mind, the more you develop the ability of the mind to visualize, the more easily you’ll begin to manifest your reality. So the ability to be able to stop and count things, or to be able to discern differences in color… those are all in the higher function of the brain. The more you work with that level of awareness, the better your ability to move beyond fight or flight level engagement. So while taking those theology classes at St Bonaventure and thinking about visualization, I got fascinated with the relationships between the theology I was studying and the ritual theater of indigenous religions. It was the idea of symbolic movements and gestures that all have purpose. You can take that right into Roman Catholic ceremony or a Southern Baptist service with the theater of preaching, which both serve to raise the energy in the room. There’s also the laying on of hands or the mechanics of public prayer that focus the energy. The pastor or priest is tying the congregation together to produce the desired effect. The gestures, the facial expressions – they translate across spiritual systems and cultures. Also, there’s the use of specific types of structures. Think about the use of a cosmic axis pillar – the Axis Mundi – whether it’s the plume of smoke in a Native American ritual or a Christian cross or the World Tree for other faiths. There are certain common threads.”

On The Bare Minimum of Ritual

“When I would have friends who want me to perform the ceremony for their wedding (Neil has studied a number of Neopagan rituals and has performed the Handfasting ceremony many times – MB) the basic thing I do is simply give them a framework for what has to be there. I give them the bare minimum of what is needed in order for a ceremony to work. In all of these ritual traditions there are a certain number of things that have to be acknowledged and if you don’t want to do those things you’re not looking for a religious ceremony. You’re not looking for someone who’s at all spiritual you’re looking for a Justice of the Peace.”

On Jung

“Jung gave us a vocabulary to share with others what was happening in the mind. So many terms and concepts that we use to this day came out of his work. The idea of collective unconscious, in particular, was important to me. And that there are many ways for us to get our minds tuned toward that arena… those small moments where you feel yourself in sync with something greater than yourself. In reading Jung I first grasped the notion that the thing that separated us from the rest of the animal world was the evolution of a sort of meta-consciousness where we realize what our survival costs others.”

On Bartending

“I miss it. Definitely the most entertaining job I’ve ever had. Tending bar is like throwing a party every night only everybody is paying for their own drinks. And part of the job is being everyone’s friend – ‘the doctor is in’ kind of thing.”

On What he Has Learned Modeling

“Just wrapping my brain around the fact that artists see the world differently. I’ve had to exercise my brain to grasp that – to begin to see the green in a sunset or to see a tree in front of me as THE tree. Yes, that’s the main thing: that artists really do see differently. Through realizing that I started to understand that I was seeing less than I could be. So I wanted to try to learn that mindfulness I saw in the artists around me, their ability to see everything for the first time.”

Inspiration – Eric Sweet

Photo Apr 16, 3 09 28 PMEric blurred in front of the work of a fellow grad, Charlie Thompson.

Eric Sweet – a friend, colleague, and former student (in a few graduate classes) – died Monday, April 6th. It was sudden and strange in ways I can’t really describe. Yet his passing drew out much love and care from the people in his sphere of influence; so much of what remains is truly the definition of bitter-sweet.

Others have spoken much more eloquently than I can about all of this. But I wanted to take a moment here to memorialize Eric as so many of his friends and family have over the recent days. In the hours after he passed I made a few statements, but for the most part have been filled with silence. So here are a few more thoughts.

Photo Apr 16, 3 18 36 PMEric’s visage, pasted above the urinals in the Art Building bathroom…

I keep thinking of his graduate thesis title: Come to Nothing. The fact is that his life was the diametric opposite of that sentiment. He really did make something. He made real impressions (printmaking pun there). Real truths. Real observations. Real impacts. He was the opposite of a taker. He was not an emotional leech. While creating the work for Come to Nothing, Eric gave constantly of himself to encourage other grads and shape the graduate program. He could be forceful in advocating for excellence and understanding, but he did it out of a sense that we all really could be better. He knew that we could all be more thoughtful, more aware. And he helped us do that.


Ideal City (Piazza Della Civilita Italiana), Hand pressed low relief blind embossment, 27” x  32”

Eric and his wife Catherine were the first graduate students I interacted with who really felt like colleagues and authorities from the very first time I met them. I often left meetings with them feeling that they were the ones doing the instruction, not me. This was – and is – a very good thing to experience. I have always felt edified by my time with them, and have loved the way Eric cast such a huge positive shadow over the graduate program at Mizzou. Grace and insightful clarity permeated their discussions. You knew you were getting straight talk from Eric.

Photo Apr 16, 3 18 27 PMA typical note from Eric to his students.

That straight talk continued after his death. In going over graduate review notes (faculty who attend a graduate’s review give feedback and vote on the student’s potential to continue on in the program), we noticed some from Eric. He’d been invited to attend review as one of our current Adjunct Professors, and he had taken the time to interact with the ideas of our current grads. Sharp and precise, Eric pulled no punches. He was a teacher right up to the end.

1935079_966535378259_7573425_nHanging out at Klik’s.

On the day of his Memorial Potluck, I was able to place a tribute to Eric on a large drawing at a local restaurant. If you’d like to see a time lapse of the drawing as I made it, watch below (or click here):

Time Lapse of Chalk Pastel Drawing at Gunter Hans, April 11, 2015

from matthewballou on Vimeo.

1907519_10105539051084089_281031879456274633_nEric at the first Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage movie viewing.

One of the most lasting things Eric gave us was his love for Catherine, which is one of the best love stories I’ve gotten to see up close. Their marriage was a testament to a couple being able to get over themselves in order to become more like their true selves. Their marriage made them more human and more transcendent. What a tremendous gift they pictured together.


I’m grateful to have known you, Eric. RIP.


The Places I Keep

For as long as I’ve had an iPhone I’ve kept a number of locations in the Weather app. One might think it strange to find the city of Luoyang in Henan Province, China or Essex Township, NY in my phone when I’ve lived in the American Midwest for many years. For me, however, this little gesture of keeping my eye on these locations is important. I use that Weather app as a way to remember and connect to the spaces and times that have shaped me.

imageLuoyang, China. Where my second daughter was born. Where we witnessed so much. One of the places where we learned to love China.

imageEvanston, IL. Where my wife and I learned how to love kids before we were parents. Where we learned so many great lessons.  Where we worked and played as newly-weds. Where we received counsel. Where we were changed and made ready for a life together.

imageGrove City, PA. Where I – as a little kiddo – got my first taste of academia. Where I watched the Challenger explode. Where I dropped my Skeletor figure in polluted water. Where I learned to love reading. Where I gained many levels of imagination and learned about the evocative power of objects and spaces.

imageEssex Township in the central Adirondacks of New York state. This is the closest Weather app location to Keene, NY, which is the town nearest Mt Marcy. It was on the side of Mt Marcy, the highest peak in NY, where my cousin Chris and I found ourselves almost trapped by flooding one camping trip; it was an epic and transformative series of events.

imageGlen Arbor, MI. In some ways this little town represents much of MI for me (I’ve had so many amazing experiences in that state). Located at the base of Leelanau Peninsula, it sits in the midst of really beautiful country. This is a place where I had a wonderful artist residency and found space for contemplation after struggling to get my mind around full time teaching.

imageBloomington, IN. Where I went to grad school. Where I found my voice as a painter. Where I learned that I would love teaching. Where my wife and I had our first struggles and triumphs in marriage. I love this place, and going back to visit is like going home.

Photo Mar 01, 9 22 43 AM (1)Florence, Italy. Where the lessons of graduate school were catalyzed – in the coolness of cathedrals and musty halls of museums. Where Pontormo presided over a leap in my visual IQ. Where we learned that international travel was doable for us.

imageColumbia, MO. Where two of my children were born. Where I’ve found a place as an educator and mentor. Where we’ve found community.

What ways do you use to celebrate the places that have made you who you are?


Norleen On The Cusp

IMG_0268-1Norleen (On the Cusp). Graphite on paper, 16 by 16 inches. 2014.


Norleen Nosri is an incredible person: Daughter, Artist, Mom, Malaysian, Muslim, Wife, Teacher, Lover of the World, Speaker of Truths, Embracer of Difference, Celebrant of Joy, Preparer of Meals, Peacemaker, Calmer of Hearts, Tea Drinker, and so much more. While each graduate student I have worked with has unique aspects which make them special and necessary to my experience as an educator, Norleen shares a special spot with Natalie Shelly; being with them is like spending time with God. Norleen’s gentleness, care for people, and passion for work are just humbling to witness.

In my portrait of her I got something we almost never see: a completely still and silent Norleen. Usually she’s a flurry of activity, all smiles and happy exclamations. Here I saw her in a moment of pensive awareness. She’s not unhappy, just leaning into life with resolve; she’s receiving some of that grace she so easily gives to others. That open face and intense look in her eyes speak volumes.

When I drew her she was on the cusp of a huge life change – moving into a new space and new opportunities in St Louis, MO. And now she’s about to undertake her greatest challenge yet: a tea ceremony installation work serving thousands of people (read more about her current work as Artist-in-Residence at the Craft Alliance in STL here). I’ve written a bit about Norleen before, so I’ll let her have the last word. Below are just a few of her thoughts from the conversation we had last year.

On graduate programs:

“I gotta do this. That’s the only mentality. My mind at first was like, what is the MFA? But I never took it lightly. It’s supposed to be intense. It’s gotta be intense. It’s going to squeeze all the crappy parts out and just leave the pure… so it’s going to be painful. I knew from many of my ceramics friends – with Bede (Clarke, head of Ceramics at Mizzou), just be prepared to cry a lot. But the best of what happens is reciprocal, between you and (your faculty). It’s not so much about discipline. The discipline is what got you in. The relationships get you through.”

On art:

“How I see the world – in terms if what part of life I’m imitating in my work – seems like a moral obligation to me. The way I interact with people, the way I hope for people; I have that embedded within my material and whatever I’m working on. It’s so specific. But the dialogue around art is often different. Critique in art can be such obsession with intense reason and cost/effect, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, concept, aesthetic… I hate that kind of conversation. I use art as my arena of letting go.”


If you can spend some time with Norleen, do it. See her work. You’ll see there’s a bit of divinity hanging in the air.


Whale of a Tattoo!

2015-01-05 10.44.31Whale of a Tattoo (Jesse’s Arm), Pastel on paper, 13 by 22 inches. 2014.

I made this drawing of my friend Jesse Slade just a couple weeks before he got married last year. Jesse is a gentle man, always ready with a quick laugh and bright smile. That bushy beard he’s got is iconic. He’s got a talent for making seemingly simple statements that have – when you think back on them – striking depth. Such a good dude.


On being a big fish in a small pond:

“That idea is totally wrong; you’re always a small fish in a big pond.”

On hard experiences:

“It’s all growth, man. Every day, every second of every day. Just growth. And it’s growth that may look like it’s decay for a while… it’ll definitely rekindle.”

On the whale tattoo:

“Did I ever tell you the reason I got the whale? Jonah. The whale in this story is a beautiful sort of temporary savior, obviously speaking of Christ. Jonah only had the whale for that time, and then it was gone. Christ stays. I got the whale as a reminder of that love. I’m excited to get a moon next.”

On single-digit temperatures:

“It is days like this I am especially grateful I have a beard. #AllDayScarf”

On his favorite band:

Trampled by Turtles.” Here’s one of their songs: “Are you behind the shining star?


Thanks for letting me draw your tattoo, Jesse!

First of 15

2015 is already shaping up to be a year full of potential for Art Stuff!

~ I was part of the jury for the True/False Film Fest exhibition that will take place this month at Imago. Titled The Long Now this exhibition follows the theme of True/False this year. Click the image for more info.


~ After the The Long Now exhibition comes down, I’ll be in a show at Imago with Jennifer Ann Wiggs and Chris Fletcher, two local artists I admire and respect. It should be fun – I’ll be exhibiting some of my digitally-based work for the first time!

harris-f_gdetailAnne Harris – figure/ground (detail)

~ A show I’m organizing and curating at Anne Arnudel’s John A. Cade Center for the Arts Gallery in Maryland opens on the 26th. I’ll be giving a talk there on the 28th concerning the topic of “Subject and Subjectivity” in regards to contemporary representational painting. I am pleased to note that two of my artistic heroines – Anne Harris and Catherine Kehoe – have agreed to be in the exhibition. It’s blowing me away to think I’ll be sharing space with these two great painters, not to mention the likes of David Campbell, Erin Raedeke, and the others I’ve invited to this exhibition.

Campbell-Death_TransmissionDavid Campbell – Death Transmission

Exhibition Information:

Title: Subject and subjectivity: a selection of perceptual paintings
Curated by Matt Ballou (University of Missouri). Organized by Matt Ballou and Matt Klos (Anne Arnudel)


January 26-February 26, 2015
John A. Cade Gallery at Anne Arundel Community College

January 16-February 27, 2016
WIU Gallery – Western Illinois University

Other venues are also considering this exhibition.

1-img_0774Kat Arft – Mourning the Death

~ In May Kat Arft and I have a show together at the Craft Studio Gallery at the University of Missouri. Entitled Four Large Drawings, the exhibition will feature some pretty massive drawings; heights and widths 6 or 7 or 8 feet. Should be awesome.

~ Finally, my first foray into online teaching took place this past semester, and now work is being done to quantify what really happened. There was some mixed success – and my class has been approved to run again next fall – but I have been collaborating with a PhD candidate, Catherine Friel, who is an Academic Technology Liaison at ET@Mizzou to get some hard data about how the online course worked in comparison to my standard face-to-face classes. Some have wondered – myself included – whether students can learn drawing in an online environment. At some point soon I’ll go over some of what we’ve learned and I’ll share my perspective on delivering fundamental drawing concepts over ye olde interwebz.

videoclassMe, “delivering fundamental drawing concepts over ye olde interwebz” in 2014.

Anyway, here’s to 2015!