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.
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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.
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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.

Updating the Glory (LEGO Star Trek Stuff)

Planet Earth at night with my Chariot Class Starship

This summer I’ve been doing a lot of work – writing, project formulating, and making. But one needs to incorporate play into the process. Often hanging with my kiddos helps with that, but it’s been horrifically hot recently… so I’ve been in the basement. After taking a year or so off, I’ve gotten back into my LEGOs as a form for creative construction, both in terms of “serious” art and as a means to recharge with play.

Anyway, stick around here if you want to see the latest Star Trek themed ships I’ve made. To see some of the current direction in my artworks, see my Instagram.

Back in 2014, I had been trying to develop a LEGO version of a Chariot Class Starship. Check out the blueprints here, and my old post about the craft. Now, the Chariot Class is a non-canon ship, but it just looks so cool that I wanted to try it out. Finally, I got around to it. This was partly through the influence of my fellow FODS who view The Greatest Generation Podcast. Their encouragement of my embarrassing creations caused me to redouble my efforts. See below.

In the coming days I’ll add a few more of my newer ships to subsequent posts. If you’d like to look back at previous ships I’ve made, see these:

USS Claudius Galenus

USS Abblasen

The Ballou Collection – Chris Hall

Chris Hall – Thrustmasters. Oil on panel, 7×10 inches, 2012.

Chris Hall is a great guy. He’s a solid dude. He’s easy to get along with, to talk about Dune with, to consider the pros and cons of kayfabe with, and to think about art with. Back in 2011 Chris came into the MFA program at Mizzou and quickly stood out. Not only was he a good painter with interesting ideas, he was also willing to let his assumptions go to grow. His thesis work was among the strangest and most unique I’ve had the privilege to see. Check out his ongoing work at his website.

Chris has the unique ability to draw out both mirth and serious, intense thought in those around him. I’ve loved partying with him over the years, and I look forward to more fun in the future.

Above: Chris as Nosferatu and me as Igor in a drawing I made… this is how we party, people. Ballou digital drawing, 2017.

I have two artworks from Chris in my home. The first, Thrustmasters, is at the top of this post. And here is an untitled fridge interior from around the same time – 2012 or 2013, just as Chris was moving into his Thesis work.

Chris Hall- Untitled Fridge Interior (Vampiric Food). Oil on panel, 7×10.5 inches, 2013.

Chris is one of my favorite subjects for illustration (I’ve drawn caricatures of my friends, family, and students for many years). Not to be outdone, Chris had me pose for a number of his paintings early on, and those sessions are some of my favorite moments in academia!

Me posing for Chris… meme-ified.

Chris shaking his groove thang… Ballou digital drawing, 2016.

The Flying Circus Flies Again

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to spend time down in the musty basement at my childhood home on Wolcott Hill Road outside of Camden, NY.

Down there, in old moldering boxes, were piled my Dad’s World War 1 model airplanes: Sopwith, SPAD, Neiuport, Fokker… All were there. As a 4 year old I was so excited to explore down there and imagine them in flight. Later on, I spent a good deal of time making my own model aircraft, and went through the enjoyment and frustration of the hobby modeler (that glue, those paints!!). But it all started in that cellar.

My father is an amateur World War 1 historian. He has fabric from Zeppelins, shell art from the trenches, original War Bonds posters, and THOUSANDS of books. Those small plastic planes, though. I loved those most of all. If I could have anything from my childhood, I think it would be those.

Last week I took my son to a local art store and decided to pick up a little Fokker Dr 1 Triplane model. A couple days later we sat and put to together. Now it is hanging above my desk in my studio, cruising above the ephemera. We watched some videos about World War 1, looked at pictures of Manfred von Richthofen, and watched the classic Peanuts cartoon about Snoopy dogfighting in his Sopwith Camel/Doghouse. It was a good day.

I might have to get another one for my son as he is a little incensed that I would mount the bright red plane out of his reach…

Two Years After

Well, I think I said all I really needed to say at the one year anniversary of my cardiac arrest – you can read about that here.

But I still wanted to throw a few remembrances up here to mark the occasion. What’s interesting to me is that even before I was really making memories again (because of the medications, etc) I got back some of my sense of humor.

Apparently I still felt waaaay out of it, as you can see here:

But I REALLY loved that oxygen mask…

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It’s always nice to get a dose of high-percentage oxygen while pretending to be Darth Vader!

I woke up a couple times before being back to myself, which was about a week later on February 24th. Here’s a picture of me in my natural state – on the iPad :)

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I like this picture because it’s the first one where I seem normal – holding my head up, looking focused – after the event. I think it’s good to mark these “traumaversary” days with thankfulness – and I am.

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It’s amazing how little Atticus was then, how big he is now, and how that amazing personality is shining through. I loved how my kiddos came around me. Those notes and hugs are so precious to me. I have saved many of the drawings, notes, and other ephemera that came to me in that room in Utica, NY.

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I have scars on my arm from where the port was in, and scars on my nose from where I tore out my intubation… man, I’m glad I don’t remember some of that stuff… throwing up, aspirating on the vomit… ugh.

Glad to be on this side of it. And to have worked out enough to shrink that massive neck paunch I had back then. Sheesh!

The Ballou Collection – Marszalek, Mize

One of the First and One of the Last – Two pieces currently up in the Ballou Collection.

The two paintings below are cherished parts of our collection. I’ve had the Norbert Marszalek painting for about a decade, dating back to my time living in Chicagoland and having a few conversations with Norbert at the Contemporary Art Workshop.

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Norbert Marszalek – Cup and Saucer, oil on canvas, 8×9 inches. 2003.

At the time this was painted, Norbert was still in the midst of several figure-based series of works featuring interiors and portraits. Over the last several years the cup – in particular the tea cup – has become increasingly important to Marszalek and he has focused on it. The attention he has given to the tea cup has caused his work to move out into sculpture and installation. It’s cool to me to have this early cup in my studio to demonstrate the way that sometimes small touchstones can roll up into mountains of concern in the work. I love it.

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Dylan MizeRemembrance, oil on canvas, 12×10 inches. 2013/2014.

I met Dylan when he was an undergraduate at the University of Central Missouri. During studio visits his interest and passion really stood out. Over the years I’ve admired his tenacity and investigative spirit. He’s also really into chess, and has both played the game well but also made some wonderful, effervescent pastel drawings of the action of chess tournaments. He has an instinct for relationships of form and color and mark that are just exciting to me. I just recently got this piece and framed it up with reclaimed oak. It’s a wonderful splash of color in my studio.

 

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!