2017 Pride

I completed a number of projects in 2017 and started a few more. Setting goals and keeping an eye on the prize during the vicissitudes of daily life can be hard, but I’ve gotten better at it over the years (thanks mostly to my loving partner, Alison). I already mentioned stuff about my exercise routine, and posted about my exhibition of recent work (that opens today!).

Back in May I set some goals for the year while at the Wakonse Conference on College Teaching in Michigan. Here are my written goals:

I’m happy to say that I’ve worked to complete most of these items and even those I’ve not yet finished have been pushed forward. I’m glad, given how agitating 2017 was socially and politically, that at least in terms of family and my work I’ve been stable and focused. The results are things of which I am really proud.

Probably highest on my list is the publication of my essay On Scholarship: Empathic Attention, Holy Resistance. It appeared in SEEN Journal and explores the importance of attention in an environment of political vitriol and “fake news.” I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it – it’s one of the best things I’ve written in years, and it shares space with artists and writers and thinkers I admire. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to have this piece out there.

A shot of the cover of the SEEN Journal and a copy of the first page of my essay. Above is a copy of The New Territory.

I am also super excited to be working on a piece for The New Territory. If you are a Midwesterner, you need to get this publication. I am working on a piece exploring the work of Joey Borovicka and adjacent ideas about interiority, Midwestern space, and solitude. I can’t wait to get it finalized and ready for the editors to sort through. Getting to write about key ideas and the work of others is very important to my identity as an artist and educator. I also just love being involved with publications like The New Territory and SEEN. They are labors of love and works of passion that really do the hard work of shoring up meaning, intellectual effort, and spiritual yearning.

I hope to continue this trend in 2018, as I’ve got the Promotion to finalize!

 

 

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An Update on my February 2016 Resolution

Of the last 685 days (since my heart attack), I’ve worked out on 627 days, beginning the second week of April – those early months were light. I worked out exclusively under supervision by the Cardiac team at the University of Missouri Hospital. After 12 weeks of observed/monitored exercise, I was cleared for doing it on my own.

By September 2016 I tried to do a heavier workout every other day. In January of 2017 I began to do those workouts daily. I am up to 359 days (including today) of “full” work outs – 45 to 60 minutes of elevated heart rate and an average of 4.6 miles of walking/running. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much. Even to me it doesn’t seem like a lot… but when you factor in my medications and how they change my energy and recovery, as well as the time it takes to get to and from the gym, shower, coordinate schedules with my wife and kids and teaching… yeah, it’s a major commitment.

In the past when I was more of an athlete and worked out consistently (before we started a family), my endurance and strength were much higher than they are now. But I’ve always been prone to overuse injuries – both rotator cuffs have problems from those years in my late 20s/early 30s when I lifted weights. Now I work on weight machines for only a small portion of my workout and try to keep impact to a minimum. I generally cycle through squats at 80% of my body weight (I press between 180 and 210 lbs), pectoral presses at 120, 100, and 80 lbs, curls at 100, 90, and 80 lbs, abdominal crunches at 150, and tricep presses at 150 and 130 lbs. The most important part of this work out is the squat portion, since my hips, knees, and ankles are pretty weak and painful. I’ve definitely grown in strength, endurance, and bodily comfort over the last year. I feel better than I have in 5 or 6 years.

Most of my workout time is spent walking, running, biking, or using an elliptical (I cycle through the different exercises over a few days). I also do some rowing and stair stepping from time to time.

So what’s the point of sharing this? I don’t have any big triumphs. I’m not reaching my ideal weight. I’m not prepping for a marathon. I’d be one of the first to be cut down in the Zombie Apocalypse. I still struggle with eating right (though we are mostly vegetarian in our daily diet as a family). I still love beer and carbs. I’m not sure that all of this effort is really helping me physically. But I do feel my awareness of my self and my experiences of living are more present in my mind these days. I do think it makes a difference for my heart health. Beyond all of this, though, the time spent working out is time for reflection and thinking about what interests me. It’s personal time. It’s mental health time.

Now if I could only manage to sleep more…

Statement for a new exhibition of WHENEVERwhen works, January 2018

Note: I’m getting the opportunity to show a new group of WHENEVERwhen pieces right off the bat in 2018. Here is my statement for the exhibition, with a few of the works interspersed within the text. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful experiences at Sager Braudis Gallery over the years, and this is the high point. I’m pleased with their installation and think the work looks great there. Of course, I’m biased. I’d love to hear what you think. You can see some gallery information here.

Splint – Oil on panel with custom oak frame. 2015-2017.

For more than twenty years, my painting, drawing, and printmaking have oscillated between symbolism-heavy representational imagery and formal explorations in the tradition of 20th century abstraction. This seemingly broad swing of subject and purpose in my work is directly related to my conviction that the core visual dynamics of either mode are, essentially, the same. I often tell my students that I’ve been making the same picture for my entire artistic life.

Sometimes I have felt led to apply those underlying compositional forces to the service of representational imagery, and other times I have felt the need to strip away everything but color, material, and surface. When I pursue abstraction, the resulting work is a foray into perceptual and physical experience. Thus, even though the works do not depict discernible objects, they are still – to me – realist in the sense that they focus on observational and haptic (sense of touch) phenomena. Conversely, my representational paintings are always abstract inquiries into the nature of meaning, purpose, and human engagement.

Periodically, when the communication of abstract, metaphorical ideals feels incongruous to me, I move intuitively into abstraction. The last time this shift occurred was about two years ago. I was coming out of a long period of working exclusively in the tondo format and had begun to readdress the rectilinear format standard to most painting and drawing. I had rejected it previously because it felt too much like a window or door space. I was looking to depict my ideas in some other form of oculus, something more subjective and mysterious. I started, in sketches and digital studies, to break the picture plane in a number of specific ways. These breaks were related to the work and ideas of artists such as Magalie Guerin, Vincent Fecteau, and Marcelo Bonevardi (among others). I was also greatly influenced by my research into Eastern and Western mandala forms as well as the newer generations of digital painting and drawing apps I was using.

Then, at age 39, I had a heart attack.

The near-death I experienced purged my interests. Though I have completed a few straight representational works since that cardiac arrest in February 2016, the vast majority of my work has focused on a series of abstract investigations I call WHENEVERwhen. In the WHENEVERwhen series I deploy an array of formal strategies that accumulate over time and leave a record within the work. These strategies are diverse; they might function in terms of simultaneity of form – for example, an area may appear to manifest as both light and solid structure – or display a counterintuitive sense of weight and balance. I have also incorporated a significant amount of collage, relief cutting, carving, and digital prototyping into my working methods.

Icon Eikon – Oil, acrylic, marker, and spray-paint on shaped panel. 2016-2017.

Another significant development of the WHENEVERwhen series was my use of shaped surfaces and disrupted framing. I have been obsessed with making frames a part of the work for many years. At first I used clean, minimal float frames. More recently the frames both hold the work and are painted on or defied in specific ways – often through cutting and reassembly – in order to fit them into the pictorial language of the work. This integration of the frame is important to the sense of edge, continuity/discontinuity of the visual field, and aesthetic structure I seek. A number of my WHENEVERwhen works are framed in vintage oak reclaimed from old church pews and University of Missouri drawing desks. This 50 to 70 year old wood adds a density that corresponds to the surfaces and textures comprising my work.

The WHENEVERwhen series is serving as a kind of pivot within my life as an artist. I am bridging influences across history and media in ways I have not done in the past. I am pushing through old modes of working and thinking. My proclivities are both affirmed and challenged. My assumptions are acknowledged, and either used or left aside. Of course, this pivoting is also happening in the paintings, drawings, and prints themselves. Somewhat disheveled and awkward, yet bursting with chromatic beauty, these works are artifacts of aesthetic exploration, distillations of influence, and tributes to rigorous play.

Matthew Ballou – December 2017

A la Lutes – Acrylic, gouache, Sharpie, and graphite on relief structure. 2015-2017.

Here are some installation shots of some of the work… I hope you can come and see the work before the show closes at the end of January.

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The Ballou Collection – Borovicka, Gealt, Ballougan

Last year I started a periodic series about artworks that I’ve collected – through purchase, gifting, or exchange – over the years. I’ve been thinking of moving some art around in our home recently, so I gathered up a couple nice pieces that I have gotten – one very recently – and put them together with one of the collaboration pieces I made with Joel T. Dugan.

Here they are – A wonderful Joey Borovicka window painting that I got just this past month, a thick Barry Gealt work of juicy saturation, and that collaboration piece that Joel and I made. I really think they hang well together. A little song at the front door of our home.

Here’s a nice detail of the Borovicka piece, entitled 4 Minus 3 Equals zero. Check out Joey’s wonderful Instagram feed for lots more of this enigmatic, compelling work. Below is a close shot of the Barry Gealt piece Waterfall III. Barry is one of the most important people in my life. He has an influence within me that is almost unparalleled. There are perhaps only 6 other voices that guide me more than his has.

Finally, the collaboration piece with Joel – Pile. Joel and I are in the midst of a collaboration of nearly a half decade at this point. We’ve been recouping recently, digging in for another push. With a number of shows together and a collection of roughly 40 works, our partnership has been a long term joy ride into the space between understanding and complete mystification. It’s been powerfully transformative for me.

So there it is. Another installation of The Ballou Collection. Hopefully I’ll get back around to it before another year has passed. Buy art, people! Fill your spaces with art from people you KNOW and CARE about!

Of Peacocks and Bovine Interlocutors

About this time last year my wife informed me that I was going to be joining two of my friends for a couple days in the wilds of Missouri for an early new year refreshing session.

Bobby and Billy, two of my surest friends of the last decade, put together a little jaunt to a secluded farm AirBnB location. In spite of my trepidation at forgoing my social media habit, I jumped in the car with them.

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It was a few days of quiet time in the brisk air, solo contemplation, good food, good beer, and serious conversation about the deep issues of life.

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It was life-giving. I’m thankful for these guys, and so many of my other friends. Even though we have families and responsibilities and stresses, there is a core of intentional care there.

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In many ways I’m not a great friend. I’m barely hanging on sometimes. I need to be a halfway decent teacher and dad. I wish I was better at both. I wish I was a better husband. But times like this, when I can be honest and straight with people I trust… they make a huge difference.

I’ve been fortunate to have had times like this with a few solid friends throughout the years, and I’m grateful. I’m thankful.

I look forward to the next time, when the peacocks roost in the trees and the asparagus spits on a midnight grill.

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And when the bull makes a visit, in more ways than one.

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Restraint&Limitation Exhibition at Mizzou

I have curated an exhibition at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery at the University of Missouri called Restraint&Limitation. This show features the work of Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito, along with some people with connections to Columbia, Missouri – Hali Oberdiek, Jessica Thornton, Elise Rugolo, Lauren Steffens, and Jennifer Ann Wiggs.

Lauren Steffens’s floor piece, Rugolo’s encaustic work, and Gianna Commito’s sharp-edged abstraction in the exhibition.

It is a spare, economically arranged show. It’s openness grew out of my musings on abstraction of all sorts. I have long felt that bigger is not really better when it comes to abstraction, and I set out to bring together just a few examples of works that do this. Here is my curatorial statement for the show (a text/painting pair) with a number of shots of the installation interspersed. There will be a catalog of this exhibition available soon.

Detail shot of Ballou’s Curator’s Statement.

Curator’s Statement for Restraint and Limitation

Contemporary abstraction is a huge, multifaceted project.  From Katharina Grosse, Julie Mehretu, or El Anatsui to Cordy Ryman, Odili Donald Odita, or Amy Sillman, the range of potential and diversity of referent available to artists is obvious.

There are no clear boundaries, no distinct definitions that provide a unified perspective on the practice of abstract painting. That contemporary abstraction utilizes the history, physical interactions, and conceptual structure of painting is axiomatic. Yet to suggest that it is limited to the realm of painting is a dramatic misunderstanding.

Detail of Anna Buckner’s Dutch Still Life.

The old discourse that endlessly returns to the interplay between abstraction and representation has lost any potency to report on what is actually happening in much of contemporary abstraction. With this exhibition, I hope to present a sliver-like view into the modes of abstraction that intersect with painting as a form and which, in unique ways, demonstrate the limitations of depiction and representation to clarify the kinds of experiences that abstraction affords us. I also seek to show how smaller works may defy the conceit that abstraction is most powerful in its more monumental expressions.

Commito and Buckner works hanging in the show.

A side view of Butler’s four goodmorningdrawings and their presentation.

The three primary artists here are women from different stages of their careers. They show commitment to the aesthetics and procedures inherent in painting practice today, yet bring diverse pressures to the form. Buckner – a newly minted MFA – pieces scraps of fabric into small, taut grid fields. Butler – with decades of art making and writing behind her – brings us small digital drawings created on her iPhone. Commito – a mid-career educator and artist with broad impact – focuses on sharp geometries and wonderful chromatic synergies. Their influences – ranging from post-paint materiality to provisionality to traditional hard-edged painting – form an invigorating view into a restrained yet evocative corner of artmaking.

 

Detail of an Elise Rugolo work.

Grouping of Wiggs pieces, with Commito off to the right.

Post Script ~

I was particularly excited to have Butler in this exhibition – ten years ago we participated in an online “shared critique” event that took place on the now defunct Thinking About Art blog. I was writing about the work of someone else, but Butler was assigned to write about one of my paintings. I thought her response sharp, knowledgeable, and strong. Though she did seem to dismiss that work, I was pleased to have her voice address my art making, and I have followed her closely ever since. Her art making, writing, and blogging – especially with the influential site Two Coats of Paint – are important. I’m really glad to have be a part of this.

Another view of the installation of Butler’s works.

Simon Dinnerstein Talk at the University of Missouri

I have the great pleasure of giving a talk about the work of Simon Dinnerstein and Antonio Lopez Garcia this morning at the University of Missouri. Last night we got to watch the wonderful The Quince Tree Sun, a fantastic film by Victor Erice from 1990. In it we see Antonio Lopez Garcia’s struggle to paint and draw a quince tree over the course of months.

Today, the event continues. My talk deals with attention, meaning, and the associations between Dinnerstein and Antonio Lopez Garcia. If you can’t be at The Lasting World Symposium, I’m linking the text of my talk and my slide show here:

Ballou – Paying Attention to Sinks Text

Ballou – Paying Attention to Sinks Slide

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Dinnerstein looking at a projection of his Fulbright Triptych during a talk this morning at the Symposium.

Dinnerstein and Ballou at the Museum of Art and Archaeology with Dinnerstein’s The Sink, September 2017.

Current Influences

As I prepare for a few up-coming exhibitions I think it’s important to state plainly what has been stuck in my aesthetic craw for a while.

Certainly my experience of working with Joel T. Dugan the last 4 years has been huge. He has definitely been a catalyst for a number of important changes and new foci in my work. But for an even longer time, the following artists have been steadily putting pressure on me. One is dead. A number are around my own age. I’m going to list them in alphabetical order – I encourage you to research them. I’ll link to a decent page on their work, but poke around the web on your own. Really good stuff.

Marcelo Bonevardi – Bonevardi, along with Diebenkorn and Manuel Neri, has been a massive influence on my sense of plasticity, composition, haptic maneuvering, and surface. Do yourself a favor and get the major book on his work here.Sharon Butler – An important artist and writer, Butler has been a wonderful champion of abstraction during her career. She’s also a part of a traveling exhibition that I’ve curated (I’ll post separately about that, but here’s a link to the blurb about its first incarnation at the University of Missouri).

Sharon Butler – Good Morning Drawings. Digital work. Dimensions variable. 2016.

Nicholas Byrne – Byrne’s dynamic surfaces, use of a kind of template system, and expansion beyond the rectilinear format of painting have all been inspirational to me. I particularly love his works on copper. Wonderful stuff. This piece. WOW.

Gianna Commito – Commito’s dense surfaces – taped off, gritty, solid, vibrant – are like jewels. I have had the great privilege of handling her works as she is also in the traveling exhibition I’ve organized, set to open at The University of Missouri at the end of this month. These paintings, while mostly small, do not shrink from the viewer’s eye. They are sharp, palpable, and fierce. I love them.

Gianna Commito – Plas. Casein and marble dust on panel. 2015.

Vincent Fecteau – I have mentioned Fecteau to people for nearly a decade. His work is mysterious, shapely, and finely-fitted, yet organic. It is strange to behold. See it in person if you can.

Magalie Guerin – Guerin is a staple of the Chicago art landscape these days. Her modest-sized works defy their scale, becoming means to mine the distance between observational notation and suggestive shape. I love their interlocking, colliding parts.

Julian Hoeber – Julian Hoeber’s slathered-on paintings are, in all of their scummy, impasto glory, treatises to precision and formal rigor. They GLOW. They are illuminated with some kind of Cherenkov light. Epic and weird. See an example below:

Emil Robinson – A powerhouse operating in Ohio currently, Robinson has been working on a series of works that is at once confusing and inspirational. He is a huge influence on a number of artists, especially in terms of his pastel-based figure studies. See his latest work on his website; a few are below. Ecstatic Spaces 1, 2, and 3. Oil on panel, 41×29, 2017.

For each of these there are a half dozen contemporary artists who are important to me as well (like Brian Guidry, Catherine Kehoe, Sangram Majumdar, Hanneline Røgeberg, and Linnea Spransy. As I continue to live and make art, I find that so many people touch me, transform me, make me what I am.

Keep your eyes open for news of new publications, exhibitions, and work. All are coming SOON.

~

PS: I love being floored by seeing a fresh work by an artist new to me. Here’s something that really caught my eye this past week: Amy Sinbondit‘s Section Break. Red eartheneware, engobe, terra sigillata glaze. 14.5 x 18 x 11.5 inches, 2011.

Collaboration

In my experience, there are very few artists who are NOT, at heart, essentially collaborative (I recently wrote about artist collaborations here). Certainly there is a neurosis to creative living that sometimes results in isolation and resistance to the free flow of ideas and actions. That’s a stereotype, though.

Above: Three Exquisite Corpse drawings I made with two of my daughters – Miranda and CaiQun. Graphite on paper, 11×8.5 inches, August 2017.

The truth is that we find strength in our collaborative efforts. This is true whether the collaboration is in the context of specific works of art or if it is (as it often is) in the context of making community. So many artists I know advocate for each other – that’s collaboration. So many artists I know curate shows, craft opportunities behind the scenes, and act as allies to those around them. That’s real collaboration.

They do this without expecting or needing a slap on the back.

In my own life as an artist, especially since I started teaching full time, collaboration and shared creation has been gigantic. I also think my children have played a huge role in developing my sense of receptivity and shared ownership of creative endeavors.

We aren’t islands. We don’t have to be disconnected. Connection is hard – it makes us vulnerable and awkward. It also forces us to mature, to live beyond a kind of precious singularity or purity of thought and action. It asks us to believe in other people and to believe in ourselves.

I’m posting a few of my current/recent collaborations here. Of course, my best and most central collaboration is with Alison. But in terms of art, the pieces I’m showing here are ones I’m really proud of.

img_7422Above: Collaboration with Kyle Hendrix – in progress. Ceramic, paint. Approximately 10x10x10inches. 2017.

Below: Works made with Joel T Dugan. First is Plié – Oil, acrylic, marker on shaped panel. Approximately 10.5 by 10.5 by 1.5 inches. 2016-2017. Below that is Jaunt – Oil, acrylic, marker and spray paint on shaped panel. Approximately 11 by 11 by 1.5 inches. 2016-2017.

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The collaboration with Joel has been very important to my development, especially since my heart attack in 2016. There is a constellation of Indiana University MFA grads scattered across the US, and I feel as if we are all constantly jostling each other. It is not uncommon to see many of us working together. I think that says something about the strength of that program. I am always aware of what many of the IU people are doing. Their work motivates me and challenges me.

Another friend I’ve worked with on and off over the years is my former student Allison Reinhart. We’ve worked on a variety of projects over the years, from exhibitions to prints, but right now we are building a very special box. The mirrored box, which I am fabricating, and that Allison conceptualized and is designing the external features of, is a container of containment.

Above: views of the mirror box – approximately 14x14x14 inches, 2015-2017.

My professional work over the last half decade has included a significant curatorial component. This means building proposals, playing with ideas, working with artists, finding funding, giving talks, and really so much more. I’ve gotten the chance to work with some of my heroes – like Anne Harris and Tim Lowly – through this process.

Right now I’m coordinating with several awesome artists for a show that I hope with travel to a number of venues – our first exhibition opens at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery at the University of Missouri the last week of September 2017. In particular, it is so wonderful to have the chance to present works by Sharon Butler and Gianna Commito. These women are two of my favorite painters, and the way they challenge and nurture painting as a form is inspirational.

Perhaps the most effective art collaboration I have is the one with Deborah Huelsbergen at Mizzou. Deborah is a graphic designer, lover of mandalas, and fierce advocate for the power of teaching. She LOVES it. She LIVES it. And our university is better because she’s here. Over the last few years Deborah and I have gotten to give a number of workshops and orientations together, and I just love getting to share the room with her wisdom and passion. Whether we are leading other educators in exercises to stimulate their own creativity or helping new grads understand how to handle their classrooms, we always seem to know how to wordlessly coordinate. Deborah is awesome!

I am really looking forward to my upcoming collaborative exhibition with former student and current friend Simon Tatum. Whew – the Cayman Islands?! Colonial histories?! Cultural excavation and interrogation?! It’s going to be amazing – check back for more information.

And how could I mention collaboration without talking about my work with Marcus Miers? You Show Me Yours, I’ll Show You Mine. WOW.

marcusmatt02Above: Photographic pairing – a shared work by Matt Ballou and Marcus Miers, 2010-2011. We showed these works at the 930 Art Center in Louisville, KY once.

There are MANY more instances I could go into (like making beer with Norbz), but perhaps the best collaboration to end on is the one I have with my students. They come from all over the world. They have all sorts of different experiences and expectations. Yet, without fail, every semester we work together to build a fun, challenging, strange, stimulating learning climate that makes a difference. I couldn’t do it without them.

Making paintings, crafting shows, team-teaching… so many ways to become more than myself. I’m very grateful for that. Here’s to collaboration!

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Collaborative Online Drawing – for more information see here.