Recent Geometric Abstractions

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.


The (R)Evolution of Sweet


I’m really privileged to be a part of this celebration of Eric Sweet’s life and work, currently on display at the University of Missouri’s George Caleb Bingham Gallery. I helped Eric’s wife, Catherine Armbrust, with a few aspects of the exhibition, including a catalog and a video of the Ideal Conditions works.


I hope you can stop in and see this show. The Closing Reception is September 17th, 2015 from 4:00pm until 7:00pm.


Informational blurb about the show:

“The (R)evolution of Sweet” celebrates the creative vision of artist Eric Sweet, who passed away on April 6, 2015. The work in this show spans the years 2010-2015.

Partial proceeds from the sale of his work will go to benefit the MU Art Department’s “Eric Sweet Memorial Scholarship Fund”.

Eric was a beloved member of the MU Art faculty, having worked at MU since 2012 as an Adjunct Assistant Professor, teaching Printmaking, Drawing and 2-D Design courses. Eric was an alumnus of the Art Department; he earned both his BFA (1997) and MFA (2011) from the University of Missouri. In 2008, he received an MA in Printmaking from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Eric was an active member of the Southern Graphics Council International and the College Art Association.

This show is curated by Eric’s wife, Catherine Armbrust–also an MU faculty member–with the help of many loving hands from the Columbia community, and the assistance of the George Caleb Bingham Gallery. Thank you for helping us honor Eric in this way.


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

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

Photo Jul 21, 4 11 54 PM

So a Spider and Alien Went to the Hospital

Photo Jul 14, 7 24 03 PMThe hospital. Why is it a massive cow? I don’t know.

Photo Jul 14, 7 25 29 PM“This is a sew-er. It’s not for sewing up shirts or anything like that. It’s for it’s for sewing up skin. I call it a Dragon’s Tooth.” – Miranda Grace

Photo Jul 14, 7 26 32 PMThe tools used to perform surgery on the Spider and Alien. “Alien’s nose needs to be sewed. Its nose is too big. Its nose holes are too big so the Tylenol drops into them. We don’t need Tylenol slurping in there…. This thing speeds the spider around and makes the animals very upset when the doctor takes it off.” – Real dialog from my kiddos.

Photo Jul 14, 7 23 53 PMThe two Doctors in action.

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.”

Marcus Miers: Halation at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center

My friend and former student Marcus Miers is returning to Columbia, Missouri to have a solo exhibition at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center.


Marcus, installing Come To Nothing (The Minimalists Ascension) at Imago.

This exhibition is, in some ways, a second iteration of Marcus’s MFA thesis show that took place this past April at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In addition to several of his thesis works, Marcus will be creating site-specific pieces that play off the unique interior quirks of the Imago gallery space. Also on display are two drawings from Marcus’s undergraduate time at Mizzou. These drawings show the beginning of his interest in the phenomenology of color and the relationship between color, space, and anxious or awkward forms.

imageOne of Miers’s recent works (left) alongside an older drawing.


Another one of Marcus’s undergraduate works.

The two undergraduate drawings will be for sale to support The Eric Sweet Memorial Scholarship. If you want to know more about these two pieces, visit Imago or shoot me an email.

imageAn evocative basket-like sculpture entitled A Soft Tongue Breaks the Bone.


Marcus Miers – Halation, a catalog of recent work, is also displayed in the gallery.

imageKeep Them Close on view at Imago.


Marcus beginning to install a site-specific woven piece in the strange brick niche at Imago.

I hope you’ll come see this exhibition if you’re in the area. Marcus will give a talk on June 2nd at 7pm. I’ll have the privilege to introduce him before he speaks. Always strange, sometimes awkward, and often mystifying, experiencing Marcus’s work is just like meeting him for the first time. Ultimately, both are rich and rewarding, so be there and start the journey.

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.