Details From “Subject and Subjectivity” at Western Illinois University

I was honored to be able to give a couple talks, hang out with students, and enjoy time with my former graduate students Ian and Natalie Shelly at Western Illinois University over the last couple of days. The second iteration of the exhibition I curated, Subject and Subjectivity, has been on display at WIU for January and will go on through most of February. As I did when the show went up in Baltimore, I have taken some detail shots of some of the work. See below, click for larger glory, and follow the artists’ names to find out more about them on their websites.

If you want to see one of the talks I gave – titled We Are All Sentimentalclick here to see the video on YouTube.

imageAnne Harris, detail from Figuring Ground.

imageMegan Schaffer, detail from Eagle Bluffs Trail to Overlook.

imageDavid Campbell, detail from Death Transmission.

imagePeter Van Dyck, detail from Richard’s House.

imageDavid Jewell, detail from Still Life.

imageAaron Lubrick, detail from Autumn on the River.

imageMatt Klos, detail from Those Nights Then.

imageCarolyn Pyfrom, detail from Studio Mirror.

imageChristian Ramirez, detail from White Bull.

imageJohn Lee, detail from Submariner.

imageMatt Ballou, detail from Portrait of Cai Qun.

Current Abstractions

Over the last 6 months I’ve been moving back into some more serious abstract paintings. Since beginning my education, these periods of return to non-representational, non-observational work have been important to me. Usually, this work is a release from more intensive perceptual-process paintings. Often it doesn’t resolve into a clear body of work, yet once every 3 or 4 years it does.

Much of the new abstraction is directly related to three distinct events that have been taking place in my studio. First, I’ve been collaborating with Joel T Dugan on a series of works that, while mostly resolving into representation and pictorial symbolism, often begin with evocative surface and color explorations. Secondly, I’ve found myself contemplating the kinds of decisions my daughters make when they work in my studio alongside me. They have none of the philosophy or theory behind making art, and so they offer a kind of pure aesthetic and material reactivity that I find refreshing and exciting. Lastly, I have been obsessed with a print made for a Penguin edition of the book The Cloud of Unknowing. The print was apparently made by artist Diana Bloomfield around 1961. Ms Bloomfield, who died in 2010, was a very successful printmaker who worked on many imprints of the Penguin publishing house.COUAbove, left to right: the 1961 edition, and a late 70’s edition, both featuring Bloomfield’s medieval-inspired cloud.

Such an enduring image.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this image and the ideas in The Cloud of Unknowing, but those are for another time. Right now, here are a number of the recent abstractions.

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Night Sky Sliver. Oil, acrylic and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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Pink Wedge. Oil, acrylic, digital print and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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Locking Diagonal. Oil, acrylic, collage and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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Crossover. Oil, acrylic and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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The Unfold. Oil on panel, 24 by 24 inches, 2015.

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Bent Icon. Oil on panel, 24 by 24 inches, 2016.

I’ve certainly been influenced in these by my ongoing love of the work of Marcelo Bonevardi and Richard Diebenkorn, but I think that watching Christian Ramirez’s recent work (mostly via Instagram) has been instrumental as well. Most important has been working up close on Dugan’s effervescent surfaces and trying to wrestle with them.

I’ve got a few more of these in the works – I’ll share them as they manifest.

 

Obligatory Year End Lists

People make year end lists at the end of every year. They are the throw-away columns of many a blog, magazine, and newspaper. Rather than protesting, let’s just make a few of our own. For mine, I shall embrace my own sentimentality and opinions – which is really what’s going on in all of the other lists anyway.

Here we go.

TOP CNC ROUTERS OF 2015

  1. X-Carve by Inventables. Follow this blog for more projects coming in 2016.

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Above: a bit of debris from a recent routing job.

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LIST OF STAR WARS FILMS AS OF 2015 IN RANK ORDER WITH LETTER SCORE

  1. Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back ~ A
  2. Star Wars Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi ~ A-
  3. Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope ~ B+
  4. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens ~ B-
  5. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace ~ C
  6. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith ~ D+
  7. Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones ~ F

~

MOST BULLSHIT EVENTS OF 2015 (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

  1. Bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan (by illegal coalition [i.e. US] forces, continued after multiple calls for cease fire).
  2. Death of Sandra Bland (unarmed and in police custody – no indictments).
  3. Death of Walter Scott (unarmed and running away, evidence planted, caught on video).
  4. Death of Freddie Gray (unarmed and in police custody).
  5. Charleston, SC church massacre.
  6. Mass shootings ~Roseburg, OR; Chattanooga, TN; Planned Parenthood, CO; San Bernardino, CA; Paris, etc, etc, etc…
  7. Donald Trump.

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Image above by Brandon Loving. Click the image to see his website, or check out his stuff on Instagram here.

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BEST MUSIC I DISCOVERED THIS YEAR (MEANING IT COULD BE FROM OTHER YEARS, YO)

  1. Hiatus Kaiyote. “Breathing Underwater” is the money track.

This band is worthy. Go Listen.

PILLAYO

2. Dubb Nubb. “It’s Weird in This World” is the album. “Sister’s House” is the song. Check it out here – then buy some tracks. Good stuff.

3. The Go Round. “Hard Tellin’ Not Knowin’” is the album. “Headless Horseman” is the key track. Get to them here.

4. Tie: Wolf Alice – “Blush” / St. Vincent – “Cheerleader” / Timber Timbre – “Magic Arrow

~

TOP PHYSICAL DISTRESSES OF 2015

  1. That time I had chest pain and went to the ER and they took an awesome ultrasound of my heart muscle and valves.
  2. That time I was forced to rest for 3 solid days because I threw my back out and, perhaps, finally herniated a disc (this item is ongoing).

~

BEST WIFI/BLUETOOTH CONTROLLED LIGHTING

  1. LIFX. I tried out a few competitors, but absolutely love these for teaching my classes and for use in my own work. See some examples below:

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Above and Below: Two different setups I made this year with my LIFX bulbs.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.36.29 AMFile Dec 29, 11 33 33 AM Above: An in-class demo figure study I made using my iPad and Adonit Jot Touch in Sketchbook Pro. The scene was lit with my LIFX bulbs. Click for enlargement.

Below: Two drawings from an LIFX setup. The first is by Mitzi Salinas Dominguez and the second is by Bri Heese.

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~

BEST WIFE

  1. Alison. Long-suffering. Helpful. Sees the grace and the good. Seeks to bless others. A fruitful teacher. A forgiving mother. None of these years would make sense without her.

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.

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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.

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Detail of a work by Sumire Taniai.

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Detail of a painting by Kelsey Westhoff.

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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 Amazon.com 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.

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

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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.

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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?