Naming the Spaces of Bingham Commons

Here in the Mizzou Art Dept, we have a centralized area that holds most of our grads called Bingham Commons. The space has 26 studios, a small wood shop, Fibers area workspace and classrooms, and several areas for critique and instruction. Since recently becoming Coordinator of Graduate Spaces at Bingham Commons, I have spearheaded an effort to name our common areas.

I wanted to honor several of our faculty members who have moved on recently. Eric Sweet, who died last year, was a huge presence in the department. His dynamic attitude was a challenge to students, fellow faculty, and the general structure of education in Missouri. We have named our main graduate instruction area The Sweet Suite in his honor:

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Bill Hawk, who recently moved into Emeritus status, was a major part of establishing the ethos of undergraduate paying at Mizzou. His sense of ‘tribe’ and his understanding of the unique place an art studio could be were – and still are – influential to more than 20 years of students (and fellow faculty):

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J Brett Grill was with the Mizzou Art Department for a decade, and brought his technical clarity and administrative smarts to every area of the program. His tenure as Director of Graduate Studies was very positive. He leaves us to be near family and focus on his successful career in public sculpture:

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Dr. Melvin Platt is, just maybe, the most important individual in our Department in the last 25 years. Brought in to shore us up and bring structure to a 21st century vision, Dr. Platt really saved our program and made huge strides toward making us secure for the future. His warmth, kindness, and knowledge of parliamentary procedure paid off:

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So, if you ever find yourself wandering the graduate studios and someone tells you to meet them in The Sweet you’ll know just a bit about why the room is named as it is. 

PS: if you can, consider donating to the Eric Sweet Memorial Scholarship.

 

The Ballou Collection – Nina (An) Flores

I’m starting a new section of my blog based on artworks that have been given to me – or ones that we have purchased over the years. Many of these are from students or colleagues, and I’m excited to share them. First, is from Nina (An) Flores. This is one of my favorite artworks a student has given me. This piece is a master copy Nina created, a drawing in oil pastel where she copied a ceramic slab made by Bede Clarke. She had the benefit and honor to work from observation on this piece, as Bede let her borrow or original work. The drawing is awesome. 14 by 14 inches on paper, 2012.

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And here is a demo that I made earlier in that semester… I drew a portrait of Nina. 12 by 18 inches, oil pastel on paper. 2012.

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Back To It

Last month, while I was in the hospital, my oldest daughter (Miranda Grace) wrote this note to me:

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Her Wording:

“DeAR DDAD’ I Hop you can mac it THRTHW UL UV TiHS DAy LOVe MiRANdA TO DAD”

Translation:

“Dear Dad, I hope you can make it through all of this day. Love, Miranda. To Dad.”

Man. A 5 year old shouldn’t have to think that, let alone write it. This note has been breaking my heart the last week or so. I don’t know where it was the previous weeks, but she pulled it out at a meal a few days ago and said she wrote it for me in the hospital (my wife confirmed this). I’m working on a painting of it now.

I’m pretty sad that Miranda and my other kiddos had to see me have a heart attack. I’m sad they had to see me in the hospital and very weak for the last 5 weeks. I’m thankful to have survived and thankful I’ve been able to grow stronger again. I’m slowly coming back. We’ve made huge changes in diet and everyday routine.

But tomorrow I’m going back to it. Back to teaching. Back to the Art Department. Back to grads and fellow faculty. Back to our awesome office staff. Back to demonstrating that making images, translating experiences, and providing points of access for others are important. These are activities that human beings have engaged in for many tens of thousands of years. No matter how much things change – shifting modes of communication, the weirdness of politics, the coming transhuman singularity, etc, et al – the need to create and speak across the gulfs between individuals will always be a key aspect of the human equation.

I’m glad to be getting back to all of that.

If you see me, make sure I’m taking it slow and easy, though.

NORBZ

Eric Norby is awesome. He was such a strange contrast to Marcus, and we made a quirky trinity of awkward jokes, weird beer, and enigmatic glances together. Norby came to Mizzou at a time when I didn’t think I’d be able to forge good friendships with new grads. I’m not sure why I thought this, but I guess I figured I was getting old and more distant from the newer grads coming into the program.

thumb_IMG_1385_1024“Goddammit, Greta!” Digital Drawing, 2014.

Thankfully, Norby proved me wrong and became a good friend.

Sometimes irascible, almost never empathetic, always intelligent, Norbz has a very particular personality that stood out from the other grads in our program. He had a strong work ethic, clear sense of the value of his time and work, and a love for the experience of music and beer that made for some of the best times I’ve had in recent memory.

IMG_1191“Janus Head Norbz (Two Faced Portrait of Eric Norby),” Instagram Photo, 2013

We began making beer together – those were some amazing nights. Sometimes they resulted in shenanigans like this:

Oh Jesus from matthewballou on Vimeo.

Norby would have thrived in any graduate program. His ability to adapt and his smarts would have made him stand out anywhere. But I’m glad he spent some time watching The Big Lebowski with me, discoursing on the qualities of Ween and Radiohead, singing some Lee Hazlewood, and exploring the meaning of the western vista.

Thanks a lot, Norbz.

thumb_IMG_5373_1024“It’s a Graying Out. (Portrait of Norbz),” Graphite on tracing paper, 8.5 by 3 inches, 2013.

“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.” – The Stranger.

A Eulogy I Never Got To Give

On February 14, 2016, my sister Denya died at age 47. After my mother’s tearful call, we went into robot mode and made plans to get back to central NY for the funeral. It’s always a trial to get packed, organized in the van, and on the road. It was more trying this time, though, thinking about the reasons for our trip. Part of what I was trying to work out was just what to think about losing Denya.

I was asked to speak a eulogy and I had been thinking about it during the drive – I had a good chunk of it formulated in my mind. So after the calling hours on the 17th of February, we went back up to our hotel room and I began writing down what I’d say.  At least that’s what I have been informed happened, because I had a heart attack in the hotel room fairly soon after arriving there that evening. I forgot much of what happened over the previous few days, with only brief snippets remaining.

Providentially, my wife was right there, as were the many EMTs, nurses, and healthcare professionals who were in our family or friends with my sister. Within minutes I was being worked on and transported to hospital. Though I am nowhere near 100%, every day feels like a bit more has returned.

So now I want to share the eulogy that I never got to give.

**

Denya was the definition of determination, clarity of vision, and kindness of heart. At 16, seeing that our stepfather was abusive, Denya decided to leave home and make her own way. She stayed with friends. She got herself to school and work. She did not allow this provisional stage to define her; she aimed toward college. She didn’t let herself get tripped up by small thinking. She didn’t fall into a spiral of foolish actions and relationships; she was wise. Continuing to work and support herself, Denya went to nursing school, eventually rising through the EMT ranks and working in the intense world of Emergency Room trauma.

imageDenya, age 4.

She grew in faith. She grew in family. She had seen her way through difficult situations at home. She worked toward a vision of education and work and made it happen. She found love in the stability and thoughtfulness of a strong, gentle, honorable man – a man who shared her vision for work and family, for faith and clarity of purpose. In marrying Timmy, Denya truly became an iconic example in my life.

imageDenya and Tim on their wedding day in 1993.

She had already been a great example of hard work and applied education, but now she was living out the sort of teamwork marriage to which I could aspire. Together, Denya and Tim built a home that was hospitable, secure, fun, and a stage for dreams. When I think back on Denya, that’s what I see: faith, family, and fun.

I also see someone who persevered through periods of intense physical and emotional pain – losing Cassandra; struggling with the effects of lupus constantly; and nearly dying when Cassilyn and Elisabeth were young. It was not merely going through these and other things that were important. It’s that she went through them with grace, strength, acceptance, and transformation. These qualities were already in her, and they were focused and made more potent through her experiences.

She – along with Tim – modeled long-suffering of physical pain like no one else I’ve known. She – along with Tim – showed us what good parenting could be: parenting with grace, fun, and high expectations. She – along with Tim – demonstrated gentle guidance, constant availability, and true enjoyment of their girls. She – along with Tim – lived life with joy and thoughtfulness. She – along with Tim – crafted a home life that nurtured not only their own family but also the families that touched theirs.

imageDenya with her girls.

So while her death is horrible and sad, and we wish we could have had many more years with her, in a very real way – at least to me – her death is not tragic. What I mean here is that nothing was wasted. She had no dead years, no years of lost potential. She redeemed the time. She made the most of what was given to her. There were no excuses in her life, no regrets. She didn’t live in anger or sorrow about what might have been. That is a triumphant life – a life full of meaning. It’s a life we can be thankful to have witnessed and been a part of.

Denya’s death is a huge loss. Yet each of us has been allowed to bear witness to her example, to her grace, and to her laughter in some way. Seeing her working at the Super Duper. Seeing her pursue her nursing education and succeed at it. Seeing her Camaro with the airbrushed roses on the sides. Hearing her infectious laugh. Watching her play the Red Queen in a high school production of Alice in Wonderland. Maybe you’re even one of the lucky ones who experienced her jumping out of the twilight shouting “I’M DA BREATHER!!!” at you, scaring you half to death.

imageAn airbrushed rose from the side of Denya’s Camaro.

I will miss you, Denya. I’ll miss your love and faith. I’ll miss your sense of humor and your grace. But I know that these things clearly live on in those who knew you, loved you, and built lives with you. We are so thankful to have had you with us for this time, and we know that you carry on.

imageA recent note from Denya.

**

Dying and Living

    

I am still in a danger zone, but resting with friends and family today, especially my Alison. 

 
Hospitals are certainly not perfect, but I would have died without one and without the actions of my wife and my cousin Mechell who acted so swiftly. So many important moments we never remember – but others do, because they acted when we could not. Our lives are not our own only. 

We live on to love and make art and ask great questions, even if only for a short time – and even the longest life is a mere half-half-breath of the universe. We perceive our realities through such feeble – yet remarkably robust – senses. That contradiction is what makes us know and dream of God, or find great joy in Keats, or learn to (start to) understand Nabokov, or sing in protest with Miss Nina Simone.
Living on means recognizing the value in every human life. It means rejecting the thinking that sees that sentiment as merely sentiment and not a life value. Living on means understanding privilege and working against it when it creates enclaves of inequality. Living on means looking for of gains for everyone – from the streets of Cidade de Deus to the house next door. And if you don’t believe that, maybe you’ve not lived and lived close enough to death. 

 
Untitled Work in progress, oil on panel, 24×24 inches. 

Living on means paying attention. My students at all levels learn that my classes are about awareness and attention, far more than they are about specific skills.

Many thanks in these hours close to death goesto my wife, Alison, my cousins Chris and Sarah and Mechell, and my Aunt Beth, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Sue and Uncle Roger (who helped coordinate things and met Alison at the Hospital). 

Of course, my Mom and Pastor Dan have been there nonstop taking care of my three rambunctious kiddos. Couldn’t recouperate without that vital help.  

  

Also, the example of Jake and Ali Gonzalez of how to live honorably in proximity to death. And the dedication and passion of Deborah Huelsbergen, who has taught me to love me students more than grades or curricula.   

There are so many more I could shout out to, like my brothers Daniel (and fiancée  Sharon!) and David (that’s his knitting above) and my sisters Stacey and Denya… Denya knew how to live and love close to death most of her life. And when death took her last Sunday, it could not take the values she gave to her daughters, to me, or to my kids. 

We live close to death. Do we believe it? Do we seek to redeem the time? Let’s make the most of it. 

 

PS: it also helps to keep Mr C nearby with random hamburgers….

  

Barry Gealt’s Graduate Orientation Document, 2003

At Indiana University back in 2003, I began graduate school with an amazing cohort of artists and learners. We found a fiery mentor in Barry Gealt. The first day that we met as a group in a restaurant in downtown Bloomington, Barry gave us an orientation document full of questions and assertions. I present it below for posterity (and because Matt Choberka‘s request caused me to go dig it out of my long dormant graduate school notes).

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Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 11.59.44 AMPage 3 – my first caricature of Barry…

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 11.59.49 AMAnd here’s a PDF of the whole thing if you’d like to save it: BarryGealt-GradOrientation2003.

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.