Dying and Living

blood vessels within my heart
A visual inside my heart during a catheter procedure.

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

Alison, my constant companion, reading to me.

 
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 goes to 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 recuperate 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….

Becoming The Student #17: Mike Seat

photoMike, Pastel on Paper. 14 by 13 inches, 2014.

Mike Seat is a pillar of the community here in Columbia, MO. He’s deeply embedded in the art world here, and has a gentle and calming presence. I’m lucky enough to get to hang out with Mike on the Board of the Columbia Art League where we both serve. He is really a wonderful man who is generous with his time. I always feel recharged after a few minutes with him. When beginning my Becoming the Student series, I knew I’d get Mike in there. Our conversation while he sat for me was so pleasant – and he always feeds me well when I visit! If you’re in central Missouri, get to know this guy.

On What Made Him Come To Art

“As a kid growing up, my dad was a painter and a photographer. I think I picked up a lot of respect for art through him. Then in high school I made art and thought about going to Art School but that didn’t work out. After that I went out into the world, started making a living… and art seemed like just a luxury for me. I didn’t have time to do it. But it was always something that was working within me. I loved aviation and went into air traffic controlling; that was the main thing for me for a long time. In the back of my mind was always a deep respect for painters and sculptors – artists in general – and that stuck with me. After retiring and moving here to Columbia – and one reason we moved here was the art culture here –  I just threw myself into the art community here. One thing I never thought I’d learn to do was wheel throwing pots, but I got to do that right away at Access Arts. That reignited it all for me. I got to sense again that great experience of making art. So after a couple years, especially while volunteering at the Columbia Art League, I started making my own work more seriously. At the At League I got to see really fine artists’ work along side amateurs aspiring to that higher level. That inspired me.”

On The Power of Art

“Making work is always a great experience. That alone is worth it. But having the piece left over as a record is important, too. The icing on the cake is getting to talk to people about it. What moved them. Getting their feedback. And it really is about expression, capturing a moment, sharing the moment, and trying to display the significance of the moment so that when a person walks away from a piece of art they have really experienced something.”

On The Feeling He Looks For In Art

“I really rely on the past. Art is a tradition. I often think about the artists who have made art over the thousands of years of recent history and know that a lot of them are unknown to us… (In terms of specific artists) I do tie in to the Impressionists. I identify with them a lot. They were painting quickly, capturing suggestions, capturing feeling, and opening new territory. I aspire to carry on there. That’s one thing about connecting with other artists; we’re all sort of doing the same thing. We’re all somewhat aware of this other plane of experience. So it’s hard for me to pin it down in words… but for me, sometimes, a single brushstroke can feel make me like I’m so much in the zone – like hitting a tennis ball in the sweet spot – and that immediate emotional feedback you can get from yourself can be so addicting. And what a great joy it is to savor what you see, to savor shapes and colors as they come together to manifest some beauty you’re experiencing. It is, in some ways, like having a very good meal; I could eat up that paint it’s so good sometimes.”

On What Makes A Good Portrait

“When a genuine, honest moment of humanity has been shared.”

You can see Mike’s photographic work beginning at the end of September at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center. Mike will be showing with the ceramist Yukari Kashihara and the show will be on display September 30 – November 7, 2014.  reception for the show will take place on Friday, October 10 from 6-9 PM.

Lamentations Series Continuing On

I’ve been continuing work on the Lamentations 3 series – see the latest work below (and an earlier note here). You can see one of the other paintings in the series here.

You can probably see that I am referencing Arnold Bocklin‘s famous painting Isle of the Dead – which he recreated many times – in this work. The connotations it carries with it seemed like a good basis upon with to embed my own reference and image.

I am also pulling from Nerdrum‘s recurring figure of alienation, seen in his Man in an Abandoned Landscape and Iron Law (center, distance).

MANIFEST “PAINT” Exhibition

Statement for the upcoming MANIFEST exhibition, “PAINT”

“…in a work of art every element, whether it pertain to perceptual form or to subject matter, […] represents something beyond its particular self.” – Arnheim

The brick is evocative for me because, in my contemplation of its form and metaphoric associations, it transforms. Its prosaic presence becomes a poetic musing on the human state.

A single brick bears a proportional relationship to the structure built from many similar units; one brick contains within itself an image of the whole building. This reflexivity between part and whole has energized the brick with symbolic meaning for millennia in many different cultures. Its presence as a signifier of component importance allows me to use it to refer to the accumulation of human knowledge: what we think we know and our attitudes about that awareness. The conceit that we can contain, format, and cross-reference everything knowable or worth knowing is widespread. Yet true understanding is often not as quantifiable or containable as we might hope. Bricks, as symbols, remind me of the good things we do, the wonderful intentions and desires we aspire to, as well as the negative connotations of the assumptions within which we often operate.

-Ballou, February 2010

Miranda Grace Ballou

Miranda

Your hands and feet… your eyes and brain… they are all more than fresh; they are still being knit together.

As I sit here, there you are across the room in your mother, your heart striking a tattoo of potential to future joys and woes. When I think about all that I am, all that your mom is, all that our people are, all that our world is, I am caught short of breath… not really overwhelmed, but overawed.

Overawed because I know that, in major ways (foreseen and unforeseen), I will be part of the way you access all that has been. This great world, this great universe of experience and time and sensation and being – each facet part of your inheritance as a human being – is going to be presented to you by my faltering, limited, frail hands and voice.

And I am moved by all of this, partly because I know that being alive is hard and I don’t want you to hurt. But I am more moved by it because I know how much the miracle of being conscious has inundated me, made me, transformed me. The glories and wonders of the things you’ll know and see and touch and hear and be flood me; I, too, know them, and know that you’ll know them so much differently than I have. But we’ll have that knowing to share.

Part of that knowing is a realization that the dignity of what you are is because of a Story that transcends space, time, personality, individuality, and being itself. That’s the place I want to start, even as we explore everything else, because everything else is embedded in that Story. You are in that Story.

You are the precious thoughts of the Author of that Story. You are the manifestation of the articulated structures of Story rippling through all things. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!