Another Ten Years

Last month marked ten years of writing posts and posting pictures here. In most ways this site has become my de facto artist website rather than a space to post observations and non-art stuff. Kind of lame, I know. But I’ve had a personal website (and domain) for almost 22 years and I have administered it in a lot of different ways. But at some point – particularly after getting deep into full time teaching – I decided to lay aside HTML and CSS and private hosting.

I still have all of those older versions of my websites. Sometimes I browse them from their resting places inside my hard drives. I think about the effort and consideration that went into them. Thankfully I never committed the Geocities and Angelfire design atrocities… maybe WordPress is just the more contemporary version of those gaudy old things, I don’t know.

I have not written much in 2019. It has been a hard, strange year – emotionally, professionally, physically.

Physically, I have been sick and run down a lot this year. The medications I take to manage my heart disease are rough, and they constrain my metabolism and energy level; I have fallen asleep without wanting to a number of times this year. Though I work out every single day, my endurance seems to be sliding lower and lower. Normally I teach a course or two over the summer, but the reality is that I know I couldn’t keep up with that at this point. There’s more to say… but I won’t.

Professionally, while I’m not sure exactly where my artwork is going, I have a good body of work underway and am getting it out for people to see. I was recently promoted to Full Teaching Professor, which is the terminal rank in the Teaching Line. It took nine years to achieve. I feel secure and thankful for Mizzou, but there are a lot of pressures that rest on the shoulders of professors in a time when Universities are trying to do more with less. As someone who understands the importance of mental and physical health, well, those pressures can be life-threatening. I know that being an educator is not just time spent with students. If it were, I think I’d generally feel much better. God knows that I am still encouraged by being in the classroom – each and every time.

Emotionally, I don’t think I am the same after the heart attack. My general affect, emotional intelligence, and responses were dulled significantly. After two years it seemed that I had returned to normal. But have I? In 2012 I had a pretty major crisis of faith – one that corresponded with the onset of depression. There were other factors during the period of time between 2012 and 2015… then 2016 came with the death of my sister and my cardiac arrest mere days later. There have been a number of other things in the 3 and half years since then that have made impacts as well. Perhaps I am being changed by the medications and the inertia of routines… At least I am getting joy from working on LEGOs with my kids.

So I haven’t been writing. Maybe more will come.

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Recent Artist’s Talk and Q&A

My current solo show, The Eternal Idol: Conflict, Impossible Scenes, and the Denial of Human Value, is on view right now (April 4-June 2, 2019) in the Montminy Gallery inside the Boone County Museum.

Detail of Head and Hole.

The exhibition features older work based in personal and spiritual conflict. One such piece is from 2001, created along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan amid the reverie of a pre-social-media world. A number of the large drawings were begun in 2006 and 2007 behind the apartment we rented on Elmwood Avenue in Evanston, Illinois. Little did I know then that those works would find their completion more than a decade later in Mid Missouri after many iterations.

The most recent paintings came from my fury over the US bombing of a Doctor’s Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October of 2015.

Detail of Current Events.

All of the works represent my ongoing attempt to picture the impossible spaces created by our collective unwillingness to constrain power, war, greed, consumerism, and ignorance – in ourselves and in society at large. Whether using documentary photos and videos or inventing from the history of the human form as a zone of violent incidence, I attempt to make plain the foolishness of conflict, oppression, and war.

At the reception event for this exhibition, I gave a talk and took questions from the audience. I present that talk here as a video, which features many images of the works on display and a number of photos taken during the reception event.

Detail of The Falling.

Here you can watch the video I’ve uploaded to YouTube. I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions you have – hell, I’ll even respond with more details if you ask me any!

The Glory of 2019 in Color Drawing

Listen. Look and Listen.

The recent work coming out of my color drawing students is phenomenal. They are thinking around my assignments, participating with the materials, and generally making leaps and bounds into understanding the physical properties of pastel and colored pencil (among other things).

Here are just a few of their amazing works this semester.


Sveta Wunnenberg. Study of Hose and Other Objects. Chalk Pastel. 18×24 inches. 2019.
Sveta Wunnenberg. Still Life in Colored Pencil. Colored Pencil. 18×21 inches. 2019.
Madison Read. Still Life with Strawberries and Glass Jars. Colored Pencil. 24x18x inches. 2019.
Devan Sweeney. Gummy Bears. Chalk Pastel. 18×24 inches. 2019.
Jessica Parker. Lunch. Oil Pastel. 16×16 inches. 2019.
Lydia Kappelmann. Apples and Brownies. Colored Pencil. 15×15 inches. 2019.
Elizabeth Finck. Bottle Caps and Pills. Colored Pencil. 17×17 inches. 2019.
Ashley Bigos. Spoon Reflection. 22×10 inches. Oil Pastel. 2019.
Jessica Parker. Reflection in the Angel. 14×16 inches. Colored Pencil. 2019.
Madeline Amack. Lunch. Chalk Pastel. 24×18 inches. 2019.
Sveta Wunnenberg. Me and Carter Reflected in a Spoon. Colored Pencil. 18×18 inches. 2019.


Miranda’s Birdfeeder Birdhouse

The last few weeks have been pretty intense. Sickness, heavy schedules to manage, deadlines to meet, presentations to give, paintings to complete and ship out… I’ve been overloaded.

Miranda painting out the design in my studio

Last week, though, I decided to step away from my “responsibilities” for a few hours and work with my oldest kiddo to make a new birdhouse/birdfeeder.

She created the designs for the outside and made the primary choices for how the finished house would look. We talked about how birds would access the house, where food would be, and how we would like to be able to see the ornithological engagement from the comfort of our living room.

Next came the fabrication. I handled the big saw cutting to assure the pieces were proper size, and then I cut the angles for the pentagonal house to fit together. Miranda did some of the chop saw work and she absolutely doing the gluing and brad gunning. She wanted to get her very own brad gun (Alison said no)!

Marking off for the roof shape…
Glue on!
The power of the brad gun compels thee!
The nearly finished product…
And don’t forget to keep the station clean. Putting away tools and sweeping up is super crucial!

After everything was settled and we gave it a night to dry, we put it in place. It’s an epic birdhouse/feeder combo just right for the Ballou Homestead.

The back entrance…
The front stoop with a pile of suet ready for the birds!
And a proud designer oversees her creation!

I am sure we’ll get some great bird visitors over to Miranda’s construction soon – maybe even a couple will stay. In any case, however, I know it was a few hours better spent in making memories and helping Miranda grow more confident with ideas, creativity, and tool use than it would have been in filling out forms or doing some administrative task.

Here’s to putting Love First sometimes!

GEO, the Man

Every artist needs a person out there in the world who believes in them, no matter what. I know I have a few people like this. I’m very thankful for them. But there’s one guy… he’s like my very own Sam Elliott.

Sam Elliott as The Stranger from The Big Lebowski.

Geo knows just when to email, just how to make a comment, and just the right moment to send support. He’s got a sixth sense for these things. He’s uncommon. He understands the artist’s mindset; hell, he is an artist (a woodcarver of great skill).

And just like The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, Geo has phenomenal advice, otherworldly commentary, and a poetic pace to his missives. We often correspond in waves of evocative side-speak, like two mystics shouting across The Void. Of course, we are mystics (at our best). And there is a void – the vast gulf of internet tubes, and years, and pastel dust, and bricks, and wood shavings.

And Hair. We are of the International Brotherhood of Longhairs. As I wrote back in 2014, Geo has a great mound of flowing gray hair. Soon mine will be as gray as his is. We share the hair. Hair Share.

Recently I received a wonderful package from Geo. It was a real-honest-to-goodness-Geo-original carving. It was a portrait of me based on a drawing I made on the outside of a box full of broken glass! Geo saw it, and he made it real, physical, a true bas-relief of wooden Ballou!

Here it is, in all of its glory:

Geo. Portrait of Matt Ballou, after Matt Ballou. 7×16 inches, carved wood relief, 2019.
I find myself making that face instinctively when I see the carving in my new office space…

New office, you say? Yes. I have taken on the job of Director of Undergraduate Studies for Art, a position which involves advising, guiding, and in many other ways aiding our hundreds of undergraduates through their academic careers. It’s been a wild transition to go from only teaching to teaching AND being a go-to administrator of Undergraduate Studies. Luckily I have many helpers, including the amazing Deborah, several folx in the Dean’s office, and Geo.

With their help I’ll do my best to do my duty for God and country… and those undergraduates who need some direction. I can tell that I’ll be memorizing the entire University of Missouri course listing… whew.

With all of this in mind it’s good to know that Geo is there. He’s holding it down for all of us erstwhile hippies, for all us wandering faithful, for all those who receive the scapular.

The Stranger: Take it easy, Dude.

The Dude: Oh yeah!

The Stranger: I know that you will.

The Dude: Yeah, well – the Dude abides.  [Exits with beers in hand] 

The Stranger: [to the camera] 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.

I’ll try to take it easy, Geo.

Divine Hammers

As we close out 2018 it’s essential that we make lists. MUST. MAKE. LISTS. I’m just kidding. Most lists suck and aren’t particularly illuminating beyond their constructor’s interests. Which is fine. Interest is good. Passion for interests is good… but some pseudo-official “best of” list doesn’t really offer much of anything to anyone.

Beautiful Collision, graphite on paper, 2009.
Ballou – Beautiful Collision. Graphite on paper, 2009. Private Collection.

Yeah, gotta love that series of drawings I made with Otherworldly Hammers breaking Earthly Bricks to manifest new life…

SO. In lieu of any of that, I wanted to throw out a few of my favorite God Hammers. This isn’t about 2018 in the least… well, it is in the sense that 2018 is when I thought about all of this. The catalyst was the phenomenal limited series podcast by Josh Clark called The End of the World with Josh Clark. You should fire up your chosen pod-reception devices and take it in, because it’s a nice overview of a lot of apocalyptic intensity (follow Josh on Twitter here). I have read/listened to/otherwise become aware of most of what Josh talks about in this series, but his delivery and perspective add to the information in subtle, thoughtful ways. While I was listening, I thought, “Damn, we are gonna need the threat of an Extinction Level Event to get humanity to cooperate on these serious issues… maybe we need a Hammer…”

A Hammer of the Gods, eh? A Hammer of God? A Divine Hammer? Well, let’s see… Here are a few.

1 – The Hammer of the Gods by Steven Davis, 1985.

The 1986 edition of the book, which features an additional chapter.

I was passionate about Zeppelin in my teen years. Among my earliest memories is my dad playing Zeppelin while I clung to his huge Panasonic Thruster floor speakers as a 3 or 4 year old. From age 13 to 18 or so I had those speakers in my room on the second floor of our now-destroyed homestead on Wolcott Hill Road in Camden, NY. That’s where I listened – even after my mom threw out my Zeppelin cassettes.

I was both curious and afraid to read the story behind the Mighty Zepp. Would their debauchery be too much for me? I listened to key tracks while reading the book and found that the context and back-story brought more mystery to the songs rather than diminish it. Ultimately the cacophonous roar of their hammer would fade… yet its ring still permeates music and performance of stardom.

2 –  Divine Hammer – from the album Last Splash by The Breeders, 1993.

Mmmm… sticky, icky, icky…

“I’m just looking for a faith
Waiting to be followed.
It disappears this near.
You’re the rod, I’m water!
I’m just looking for One
Divine
Hammer!”

The Deal twins…. Kim and Kelley, alcohol and heroin, chunky bass and crunching guitars. This album is one of the main sounds of my high school years. There are very few things that remind me of smoking and – momentarily – make me want a smoke, but one is the opening of this album… Watch this document of early 90’s slacker-cool:

“You’re the rod, I’m water!”

3 – The Hammer of God by Arthur C. Clarke, 1993.

Now we arrive at the real deal, a novel by one of the great artist-scientists of the 20th century, Arthur C. Clarke. I read this shortly after high school while working a job cleaning mall parking lots in the middle of the night – the perfect time for existential dread. Here’s the basic run down: A big space rock is going to hit us. If we don’t cooperate there won’t be any earth – or life for that matter – to continue our petty squabbles about. We figure something out, but the religious nuts mess up the plan… so our hero has to step in with a fun little last minute intervention to save humanity.

One of Clarke’s last… a good one.

There you have it. The Hammer of metal excess. The Hammer of doubt-laced-seeking. The Hammer of an indifferent cosmos. Go listen to Josh tell you all about the End of the World, and feel free to round our your experience with one of the items listed above. You’ll enjoy it.

Peace out, 2018.

The Latest Color Drawing Totality – Fall 2018

Kevin Frazier. Master Copy after George Condo. Oil pastel on paper, 28×22 inches, 2018.

The current crew of Color Drawing (ART_DRAW 2210) at Mizzou is doing some really nice stuff. I’ve incorporated a number of new variations of my projects, including adding in black lights, new constructed forms, and modified instructions for several Prompts and Assignments.

Michael Flinchpaugh’s Tinfoil Self Portrait Project. 24×18 inches, oil pastel on paper, 2018.

A project that I started last semester, the Tinfoil Self Portrait, has returned. This time I chose to let the students work in whatever size they chose, so I got a wide array of aspect ratios and scales.

Clara Choi’s Tinfoil Self Portrait Project. 18×30 inches, oil pastel on paper, 2018.

The Master Copy projects were quite wonderful this year, and students drew from many eras of art history. I have also encouraged students who work in Digital Storytelling, Graphic Design, or Interior Design to use significant artists from those arenas as well.

Shannon Kling. Master Copy after Leroy Neiman. 18×14 inches, oil pastel on paper, 2018.
Clara Choi. Master Copy after Elizabeth Murray. Chalk pastel on paper, 30×14 inches. 2018.
Madison Sturr. Master Copy after Alexander Ross. Oil pastel on cut paper, approximately 18×24 inches. 2018.
Stephanie Craven. Master Copy after Glenn Brown. Oil on paper, 22×30 inches, 2018.
Leah Scott. Master Copy after Vintage Movie Poster. oil on paper, 30×22 inches. 2018.

The works my students create when they look at great works of art and copy them are not mere transcriptions. In undertaking the effort to create a version of a masterwork, the students must ask themselves important questions continuously. These interrogations about composition, color, material density and structure, and a whole slew of other issues, all serve to increase the students’ visual and physical IQ.

My Color Drawing 2 students work primarily with Prompts, which are designed to take them on a journey through questioning and challenging their assumptions. Without showing you the whole track of artworks it would be hard to demonstrate their developmental trajectories, but it has been encouraging to watch. While all of my Fall 2018 Color Drawing 2 students have made some very interesting stuff, Amanda Doyle and Mitch Feyerherm, have made strange and exciting works that have made the most of the personal investigations that the Prompts are meant to encourage.

Mitch Feyerherm. Leaf Collage, Prompt 4. Leaves and adhesive on paper, 10×3 inches. 2018. Below, two other, smaller works from Prompt 4:
Amanda Doyle. Wild Woman. Collage, colored pencil, gouache, and digital drawing/painting. Dimensions variable, 2018. Below are four works by Nicole Pratte for Prompt 4, based on screenshots from videos. The pieces, in colored pencil, ink, graphite, collage on paper and acetate, explore how deformities and morphological differences change our assumptions about emotion, intelligence, and quality of life:

Overall my students have taken some amazing strides this year. I’m pleased that my own drive to meet them and challenge them has continued to be strong. Here’s to many more years!

Restraint and Limitation at Nebraska Wesleyan University

The second iteration of an exhibition exploring trends in contemporary abstract art is now on view at Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Elder Gallery. The first version of the show took place last year at The University of Missouri and the exhibition will travel again in 2019 and 2020.
The main change in this 2018 version is that additional artists have been added, moving the roster up to 20 individuals – 13 women and 7 men. The works have also grown in diversity, with more sculpture, assemblage, photography, and fibers works entering the constellation.
Works by Erin King (wall) and Sumire Taniai (on pedestals) appear along the title wall.
Two works by Ryan Crotty, a tiny relief fibers piece by Hali Moore, and four digital works displayed on iPads by Sharon Butler.

This show centers on the work of Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito. A constellation of 17 other artists appear in this view into contemporary abstraction, and their work incorporates Painting, Drawing, Digital Drawing, Photography, Fibers, Assemblage, Collage, Sculpture, Relief carving, and other forms.
Sarah Arriagada, Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, Gianna Commito, Ryan Crotty, Joel T. Dugan, Dan Gratz, Michael Hopkins, Erin King, Kristen Martincic, Marcus Miers, Hali Moore (Oberdiek), Justin Rodier, Elise Rugolo, Amanda Smith, Lauren Steffens, Sumire Taniai, Jm Thornton, and Jennifer Ann Wiggs have work in this exhibition. Click on their names to see their websites and find out more about their work.
Three works by Gianna Commito engage with three works by Amanda Smith in this view of the exhibition.
As you can see from the exhibition listing at NWU’s website, I’ll be at the gallery on December 7 to talk about the show and answer questions. I’ll also spend some time meeting with students and engaging with the school community. I love the chance to spend time in the space with the work and field questions in the moments of viewer experience. The works are meant to be seen, interpreted, and extrapolated.
Three collaborative works – collectively a “Curator’s Statement” – by myself and Joel T Dugan are seen here on the left. A wonderful dimensional graphite and folded paper drawing by Marcus Miers and two sculptures by Lauren Steffens continue to the right.
photo-oct-25-6-34-55-pm.jpg
This wall, featuring tight formations by Sarah Arriagada and Kristen Martincic, is one of my favorite views of the show.

These few views can’t really give you a true impression of the show. I hope if you’re nearby you’ll stop in. My efforts to curate interesting collections of works are definitely becoming more and more important to me as an artist and educator. Particularly, with an exhibition such as this one, I am afforded the chance to expand and contract a specific intellectual and aesthetic gesture. I find that tremendously exciting. This iteration of the Restraint and Limitation show is probably the most expansive version that will happen, so it’s intriguing to sense how constrained it still feels. I am passionate about small works that distill meaning and experience, defying long-held notions about what art is supposed to do.
Three amazing fiber works by Anna Buckner hold a wall next to a strangely evocative photographic/found object assemblage by Justin Rodier.
To close out this announcement post, here’s the bit of writing I had affixed to the title wall:
The logic of abstraction cannot be reduced to a few dudes painting in mid-20th century America. This exhibition is meant to present another view. Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito, the three core artists presented here, show commitment to the aesthetics and procedures inherent in abstract painting while bringing diverse pressures, materials, and processes to the form.

 – Matthew Ballou, October 2018.


Photos in this post are by Michael Larsen.

From Then Til Now

Twenty years ago today I met my future wife for the first time… she had just turned 16 the day before.

Hard to believe from looking at this image that we would end up becoming friends, dating, marrying, and traveling the world on weird adventures…

We had this amazing few years I like to think of as “The Cute Years” – when I was still a beautiful baby. She’s always been a beaut. Look at this:

Undergrad Date Nights…

The night was sultry… SULTRY, I SAY!

SO INNOCENT!

Being six years older than her, I was able to go to both her high school dances AND her college dances… I’m not sure what we were thinking with that garter thing… hmm…

Ah, Chi Omega, the cult sorority that Alison was in back at Northwestern…

We did fun things, like attend fish-eyed art openings…

…and read aloud – A LOT. How many books have we done this way, honey?

Through it all, it was you and me. Twenty years. There’s been a lot of hard stuff, but a whole lot of good. I’m so grateful for you.

xoxoxoxoxo

Inspiration – Miranda Grace Ballou

Miranda Grace helping me with my large mural project, 2018.

My first born child is a spitfire eight year old. She’s great at math. She’s dramatic and feels all the things SUPER intensely. She’s a very good swimmer (winning some heats locally) and is the unequivocal leader of her siblings. She loves horseback riding, Transformers, and Narnia. She has always been a passionate creator; she’s burned through reams of paper and thousands of pens, pencils, and markers. She LOVES joining me in the studio. Recently she helped me out with a large mural I’m working on. She’s a pretty amazing kid. Here’s some of her recent work:

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on cardboard, 24×18 inches, 2018.

Miranda has started to get very interested in symmetry and creating katywompus abstractions based on a kind of ‘across the surface’ balance. I really like these. Here are a few more.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 20×23 inches, 2018.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 6×13 inches, 2018.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on panel, 16×20 inches, 2018.

My daughter is also very much into working with fabrics and paper. She creates books – stories of every day events – and illustrates them. She makes games, and cuts out all of the pieces and creates the rules. She has made costumes, crowns, and jewels – all out of paper. Cardboard boxes have become space ships and forts. Recently she created – totally unprompted and with (as far as I can tell) no context – a sort of paper and fabric piece that functions as both a wall hanging and a skirt. Check it out.

The front side is pictured here on the left. The verso is on the right. When I was taking these photos she was annoyed that I wanted to take a picture of the back, but it’s amazing. She’s using staples to hold layers of various fabrics, paper, adhesive stickers and sheets, as well as post-it notes and tissue paper together. When hanging, she says it’s titled The Straightened Skirt. In this form it’s about 50 by 10 inches in size. Here’s Miranda modeling it in skirt mode:

 

Anyway, I think she’s pretty awesome. Each of my kiddos has been inspirational, and I expect they will all eventually have their own spot on my blog. I’m so thankful for these kids and their creativity and powerful presence in my life. They have made my work and teaching so much more rich and strange.