Go Home, 2019… You're Drunk

Dani's boyfriend had an interesting experience in a bear at the end of Midsommar...
Dani’s boyfriend had an interesting experience in a bear at the end of Midsommar…

Some years I do a year end list or two (Here’s 2016, 2015, and 2011). Why not? I mean, 95% of the lists out there are lame, so why not throw my 2 cents in to the hopper?

Top Songs of 2019 (which may or may not have been released in 2019)

Timebends by Deerhunter cover artwork
Timebends by Deerhunter cover artwork

Here are the songs that have dominated my Spotify listening the last year… If you’d like to take a listen, click on the Spotify Playlist Link here.

  1. Timebends by Deerhunter from the album Timebends (2019)
    • A sprawling, rambling, operatic jam, this track is a phenomenal breath of fresh air. At nearly 13 minutes it has enough room to breathe and transform as it goes. It is a joy to take in.
  2. Cop Killer by John Maus from the album We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of ourselves (2011)
    • I discovered this ethereal, weird song while watching Russian Doll this year. The oddly (and almost cliched) vampiric delivery of the transgressive lyrics force a detached, otherworldly vibe.
  3. Doin’ Time by Lana Del Rey from the album Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)
    • Lana Del Rey is phenomenal mood-maker and NFR! is a great effort. I’m drawn to many songs on the record, but this is quintessential LDR. Bartender is also a standout track. My only real low for this album is the horrible cover art; get a graphic designer, Lana.
  4. Tiberius by The Smashing Pumpkins from the album Monuments To An Elegy (2014)
    • Tiberius signaled a real return to form as the lead track on William Corgan’s reconstituted Pumpkins lineup in 2014… though I didn’t experience this album until 2019. It might as well have been recorded in 1996 for all the melodic bombast and lyrical melodrama it contains.
  5. True Dreams of Wichita by Soul Coughing from the album Ruby Vroom (1994)
    • Mike Doughty‘s Soul Coughing made some of the most unique and catchy tunes of the 90s. True Dreams of Wichita – like many of the songs Doughty has written – is loaded with imagery and visual/linguistic puns. The phrase turning paired with a sharp evocation of location and emotion is just good poetry.
  6. Pitch Or Honey by Neko Case from the album Hell On (2018)
    • Neko Case is nothing short of a national treasure. Outspoken (follow her on twitter [@NekoCase] for some serious fire) and totally aware of her power, Case brings intensity from the first note to the last on the Hell On album. Pitch Or Honey is the perfect song for an artist like me; the refrain “am I making pitch or honey?” is a question all creatives – indeed, all people – have to ask ourselves. I want to make sweet sustenance, not just crap to gum up the works. Neko knows.
  7. I Only Play 4 Money by The Frogs from the album Starjob (1994)
    • I was introduced to this legendary shock/lo-fi/weirdo-rock band from Milwaukee, WI in 2001 while ensconced in the woods between the town of Saugatuck, MI and Lake Michigan. It was a strange time. Recently I’ve been obsessed with this song and the number of versions where the likes of Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan sing and play on the song. Go to YouTube and just search for the track to discover these funny, chaotic iterations.

Best Shows of 2019 (that I watched in 2019, at least)

Regina King as Sister Night from HBO's Watchmen
Regina King as Sister Night from HBO’s Watchmen
  1. Watchmen – HBO (2019)*****
  2. Russian Doll – Netflix (2019)*****
  3. Schitt’s Creek – POP (2015-2019)****
  4. Dark – Netflix (2017-2019)****
  5. True Detective Season 3 – HBO (2019)****
  6. Better Call Saul – AMC (2015-2019)****
  7. Black Mirror – Channel 4 and Netflix (2011-2019)***

Watchmen is an incredible thing to see exist as art in today’s America. It’s everything you want art to be – challenging, genre-breaking, character-driven but not subservient to tropes and minor concerns. While many producers of American culture believe that they can fulfill the representation of people of color or tell formerly-non-centered stories with token characters and shallow arcs (I’m looking at you, Disney) Watchmen doubles down on history, context, and powerful performances with developed characters. The ensemble cast is top notch, but Regina King (Sister Night) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Dr. Manhattan) absolutely dominate as the main characters. Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, and an amazing Louis Gossett Jr. anchor a group of actors – both veteran and very young – who really buy into the deep magic of the Watchmen universe in ways that give keen insights to what is happening with racism, rising nationalism, and the frayed edges of our political establishment right now… wow. All that and an alien squid shower.


Best Movies of 2019 (well, watched in 2019)

Florence Pugh as Dani in Midsommar
  1. Midsommar – Directed by Ari Aster (2019)
  2. The Lighthouse – Directed by Robert Eggers (2019)
  3. Mandy – Directed by Panos Cosmatos (2018)
  4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Directed by the Coen Brothers (2018)

Midsommar is a powerful film about family, death, belonging, and the social construction of meaning. The tension created between how death visits Dani’s typical American family and how it visits the cloistered, alien, cult-like community she visits in Sweden calls us to reconsider how we understand the trajectory and significance of our lives. Are these very different notions of human dignity, purpose, and value truly at odds? Might the strange, pagan ritual of Midsommar offer something altogether deeper for those who believe? Excellent, challenging film making.

Dani simultaneously experiencing existential brokenness and the assurance of communal emotional support in Midsommar.
Dani simultaneously experiencing existential brokenness and the assurance of communal emotional support in Midsommar.

Nunc Perpetuus – For Chris

Below is a bit of writing I have been banging around for the last number of years. This section is actually much less than half, but the rest of it isn’t ready. Today being my cousin’s birthday, and this text being about my time spent with him, I’m dedicating this post to him and sharing this present with everyone. – Matt Ballou, 12/15/2019

Nunc Perpetuus: Making Now Eternal

“One instant is eternity; eternity is the now.” – Wumen Huikai (1)

“Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.” – T.S. Eliot (2)

On a brisk Sunday afternoon in April 1998 my cousin Christopher Metott and I ventured out onto the rocks atop Salmon River Falls near Altmar, NY.  The photographs resulting from that excursion reflect – our differing aesthetics notwithstanding – the great affinity we share regarding time and experience. While our focus was often different, it is certain that we were often held in an otherworldly grip as we spent time out in the hills, fields, and woods we once called home. We went looking for landmarks, not of space on the land, but of life in the landscape of time. We wanted to set up those touchstones as a means of hope for what was to come and as a remembrance of what was gone behind us. In a way that seems, in hindsight, dramatically lucid and reasonable, we established these places to make sense of our past and to justify our future. We formed those experiences together, and it bound us as two journeying souls.

Chris at the Salmon River Falls, 2002. Photo by me.

Of course, that Sunday afternoon wasn’t the first time we’d worked this way. This had been our method for years. We’d built cabins in the woods, fortresses to stand in for us when we couldn’t be out there. They were tributes to our work, to our belief in God, our desire for a relationship with nature, and the ethic we shared of contemplating what was beyond us.

We had spent long, cold winter nights ensconced in nothing but our nylon tent and a bit of hope, almost daring the circulatory disorder that Chris had to take us on. We took the longer, back way up mountains just to say we’d done it – and paid the price. We fished tinkling little streams few people knew about, happily releasing our delicately armored catch. We took many expansive road trips out into the quiet upstate New York night to catch the wind off Lake Ontario, to bask in the deep stillness of Route 3 (The Star Road) at 3 in the morning, and to wander with the colonial ghosts lingering to the south. We witnessed those slumbering Adirondack giants – ancient and rounded – blacking out the starry canopy as we wove between their couched numbers. Then there were those northern light nights, which seemed like mystical initiations into A Great Mystery. We saw them for the first time in the deep cool of the earliest morning hours, streaking over us as we lay on our backs in our sleeping bags, gazing up into the glowing pinprick host above. Then again, years later, on the small island we’d gone to on an impulse, we witnessed the green and blue flaming curtains exploding over the low hills to the north, reflecting off the water and our eyes.

Salmon River Falls. Photo by me. 2002.
Ontario Shoreline. Photo by Christopher Metott. 2002.

Yet there was always the backyard simplicity of the town where we’d grown up. Hiking out into the forests of tamarack and pine, through fields of corn and hay to find that perfect spot. The trees, paths, hills, stone fences, rocky streams, and rippling fields conjured our transition – like an incantation – from the daily concerns of siblings and chores to deeper, more satisfying meditations. We tried to maintain it. We stayed at Winter’s Night, stacking up those old field stones from the corner of the fence for our fireplace. Or maybe View would be our destination, with its mild overlook of the languid valley in which our hometown was situated. Sometimes we’d just sit in Whispering Pines, poking at our fire and laughing at those who’d never understand us.

Salmon River Falls. Photo by me, 2002.
Salmon River Falls Bank. Photo by Christopher Metott. 2002.

There was always the ritual, the ceremony, of naming our places. They were our blameless sacred groves. Some names come to mind, some are lost in the mist for now, yet each can summon memories that speak not just about events and people, but also about feelings and our sense of the world. We’ve never stopped our efforts to be available to the creation of these sorts of signposts in the fabric of our time. We want them to catch us up when, lost in some future, we need to go back and forward in the same moment. To remember how it was and how it ought to be… and how it might be again. When we need to recall innocence and reinforce our will to be good and honest and kind in the world, such as it is. This is how we discovered morality for ourselves.

It was a morality mitigated by music as much as by place and time. We favored plaintive, earnest, digressive compositions that lent themselves to mythic application – everything from 70’s progressive art rock to weird new age kitsch to contemporary British hipster fare. It was always about mood, about ushering in wanderlust amid a sense of place. We wanted music that would work in tandem with the winter winds, the midnight sound of water on ancient shores, and dusky skies flecked with fiery clouds and a sweet breeze. In the end, we wanted to palpate the very feeling of being, the dearest knowing of our own experiences.

Salmon River Falls. Photo by me. 2002.
Upstate New York Snow and Shadows. Photo by Christopher Metott. 2002.

Through all of those experiences lay a thread of earnest documentation, a yearning to hold it fast, to remember it, to know it. Half the time we didn’t really know what the it was. We knew that it was what happened when the two of us where together, experiencing something with each other and with the world. We knew that it was a feeling of rightness, of sensing something beyond mere perception; something we only knew was there by sighting its position through each other in a mystical triangulation. It was a spiritual hope, a burning desire to be in life. To experience a fulfillment in the moment – a moment that could expand to fill eternity with its promise and light and perfection – was our aim.

A key component of our desire to hold fast to our experiences was to revisit our sacred places over and over again. This consistent returning – a physical, mental, and spiritual act – infused them with more memories, more mystery, and more access to that joyful transport of sensory perception we so earnestly sought. Sometimes we got it and sometimes we didn’t feel it so strongly, only to – upon remembering – find that it was still there. Thus a special mimetic fact was discovered: remembrance is often more powerful than the experience itself. Our shared remembering sometimes held the deepest connections to the timelessness we pursued.

What does any of the above have to do with a Sunday in April of 1998? Well, pretty much everything. Our different forms of expression (I am a painter and Chris is a photographer) have been informed by this lifelong urge to document, to earmark, to source those moments of insight that impact all the moments before and after. These are moments that become eternal in their influence and necessity; they make us who we are. We’ve tried to live in such a way that maintains those glittering glimpses of eternity.

“But even the unknown past is present in us, its silence as persistent as a ringing in the ears. And nothing is here that we are beyond the reach of merely because we do not know about it. It is always the first morning of Creation and always the last day, always the now that is time and the Now that is not, that has filled time with reminders of Itself.”

-Wendell Berry (3)

  1. Wumen Huikai (1183-1260), translated by Stephen Mitchell from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, (Harper and Row, 1989).
  2. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), from Four Quartets, (Faber and Faber, 1959 edition).
  3. Wendell Berry (1934-), from Fidelity: Five Stories, (Pantheon, 1993 edition).

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.

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!

 

 

New Books

I’m always on the look out for new books to add to my collection. As an artist and educator, I know there is something wonderful about the physical feel of a book, the way the pages smell, and the beauty of a really high quality reproduction. Recently I’ve added the Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonne, a wonderful investigation of Hilma af Klint, and some other texts. A few of the new books are listed below.

Riva Lehrer – Circle Stories

Riva Lehrer is a profoundly important Chicago-based artist who has worked on disability and identity for her entire career. Circle Stories, put out by Gescheidle in 2004, is a wonderful way to introduce her work to my students and to commemorate the power and presence of her work. The portrait of Rebecca Maskos (above) is particularly special to me, as one of my daughters has osteogenesis imperfecta.

I appreciate the leanness of the book. The statements are direct and clear. The images are evocative and give an indication of the passionate work and depth of feeling that Lehrer brings to her painting.

~

Chester Arnold – Evidence

I love Kelly’s Cove Press, a small publisher focused on California and Bay Area artists. Their Squeak Carnwath and Diebenkorn books are, to me, essential viewing for painters. I REALLY hope they plan to publish something on the drawings of Manuel Neri or the wonderful paintings of Kim Frohsin sometime soon.

In this book, the work of Chester Arnold is featured. There is a wonderful play between smaller works and larger, more realized pieces in the design flow of the book. Covering a number of decades, this is an ideal introduction to Arnold’s work for those of us who aren’t as familiar with it. Frankly, I was blown away when I received the book. Arnold’s handling of narrative structure and symbolic force is rare. So much of contemporary representational painting pays lip service to story and metaphor without the depth necessary to deliver an image of lasting power. Chester Arnold really hits home with these paintings, and he’s been doing it for decades.

Arnold’s manner of painterly facture, compositional array, and use of symbolic objects and associations strongly reminds me of the great Maine-based artist Robert Barnes, as well as the frenetic interiors of Gideon Bok (also working out of Maine). What an interesting show these three would make together.

~

Emil Ferris – My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Ms. Ferris is a force of nature, and her first graphic novel is set to become legendary.

Every single page is a wonder to behold. The story moves with a familiar strangeness, recalling the moodiness of fellow Chicagoan Chris Ware’s work. It’s also an ode to the Pulp Era and Hammer Horror films. The artwork feels so close to the artist’s hand – the line quality and the sense of notebook paper (complete with “holes” for a 3-ring binder) are astounding. Ferris’s use of ballpoint pen exists here as both a limitation and an extravagant, magical tool.

I also really love how Ferris constantly brings art history into her work as a real player in the story. She does this particularly with art that’s readily available to be seen in Chicago. The city, its buildings, its people, and its art are all palpably present.

My suggestion would be to listen to the fantastic profile conducted by NPR here. I think you’ll find yourself as compelled as I was, and you won’t regret picking up this phenomenal book.

~

Recent Publications

13725109_10154344363709491_3439759102298509937_oCollaborative digital artwork featured in the neotericART piece. See below.

I’ve had the great pleasure of having a few publications this year. I’ve always got 2 or 3 pieces in the works, so it makes sense that they’d come out from time to time. This year sees a brief but prestigious invitation and two wonderful panel discussions that I coordinated. If you’d like to check them out, see below:

Nerdrum Bio for Grove Dictionary of Art

Dr. Judith Rodenbeck of the University of California invited me to write a biography of Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum for the Grove Dictionary of Art, an imprint of Oxford University Press (online version is here). Dr. Rodenbeck is the lead editor of the 2016 Grove Art update. My piece will be published in the next couple of months. I’m pretty excited about this!

A Non-Verbal Debate: Digital Collaborations

This piece, created for neotericART (where I have contributed for many years), is a discussion of online, live collaboration tools – digital whiteboards – and how artists are beginning to adapt them into their work. Just the tip of the iceberg on this developing practice!

You Make The Work By Performing It: A Roundtable Discussion on Oblique Perspective

The Finch is an amazing online publication co-edited by Richard Benari & Lauren Henki. They invited me to lead a group of my graduate students in a panel discussion about some of the ideas that Dorothea Rockburne brought up in a recent interview. Our far-ranging conversation was one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

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.

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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.

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Detail of a work by Sumire Taniai.

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Detail of a painting by Kelsey Westhoff.

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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.

 

First of 15

2015 is already shaping up to be a year full of potential for Art Stuff!

~ I was part of the jury for the True/False Film Fest exhibition that will take place this month at Imago. Titled The Long Now this exhibition follows the theme of True/False this year. Click the image for more info.

Postcard

~ After the The Long Now exhibition comes down, I’ll be in a show at Imago with Jennifer Ann Wiggs and Chris Fletcher, two local artists I admire and respect. It should be fun – I’ll be exhibiting some of my digitally-based work for the first time!

harris-f_gdetailAnne Harris – figure/ground (detail)

~ A show I’m organizing and curating at Anne Arnudel’s John A. Cade Center for the Arts Gallery in Maryland opens on the 26th. I’ll be giving a talk there on the 28th concerning the topic of “Subject and Subjectivity” in regards to contemporary representational painting. I am pleased to note that two of my artistic heroines – Anne Harris and Catherine Kehoe – have agreed to be in the exhibition. It’s blowing me away to think I’ll be sharing space with these two great painters, not to mention the likes of David Campbell, Erin Raedeke, and the others I’ve invited to this exhibition.

Campbell-Death_TransmissionDavid Campbell – Death Transmission

Exhibition Information:

Title: Subject and subjectivity: a selection of perceptual paintings
Curated by Matt Ballou (University of Missouri). Organized by Matt Ballou and Matt Klos (Anne Arnudel)

Dates:

January 26-February 26, 2015
John A. Cade Gallery at Anne Arundel Community College

January 16-February 27, 2016
WIU Gallery – Western Illinois University

Other venues are also considering this exhibition.

1-img_0774Kat Arft – Mourning the Death

~ In May Kat Arft and I have a show together at the Craft Studio Gallery at the University of Missouri. Entitled Four Large Drawings, the exhibition will feature some pretty massive drawings; heights and widths 6 or 7 or 8 feet. Should be awesome.

~ Finally, my first foray into online teaching took place this past semester, and now work is being done to quantify what really happened. There was some mixed success – and my class has been approved to run again next fall – but I have been collaborating with a PhD candidate, Catherine Friel, who is an Academic Technology Liaison at ET@Mizzou to get some hard data about how the online course worked in comparison to my standard face-to-face classes. Some have wondered – myself included – whether students can learn drawing in an online environment. At some point soon I’ll go over some of what we’ve learned and I’ll share my perspective on delivering fundamental drawing concepts over ye olde interwebz.

videoclassMe, “delivering fundamental drawing concepts over ye olde interwebz” in 2014.

Anyway, here’s to 2015!

David and Patch

David-and-Patch2014David and Patch (Professor David Oliver’s Mandala). Acrylic and gold on panel, 30 by 30 inches, 2014. Click the image for enlargement.

Professor David Oliver is an amazing person. He is a husband, father, and grandfather. He is a professor and mentor. He is passionate about life and justice and hope. He is dying.

Diagnosed with Stage IV nasopharyngeal carcinoma in 2011, he knew his days were limited. An expert on aging who had built a long career in Gerontology and understanding end-of-life issues, David knew that he could apply all he’d studied, learned, and implemented to his cancer. In the years since the diagnosis he has produced a series of videos that detail his cancer journey on his blog, written a book on demystifying death, and won awards (along with this wife) for work on improving end-of-life care.

David’s story is certainly inspirational (you can read more at The Huffington Post here), but it also has a personal angle for me. David was my mother-in-law’s mentor nearly 40 years ago when she was a student at the College of the Ozarks and he was a professor there. Over the years they have continued to have a warm relationship, and mom was dramatically influenced by David’s character and understanding. As providence would have it, his career journey led him to the University of Missouri. When I arrived to teach here in 2007 he was an early advocate for me, meeting with me and encouraging me. The mentor came full circle in impacting our family.

I knew I wanted to make a portrait of him for my Becoming the Student series, but I didn’t want to impose, figuring he had better things to do with his remaining days than pose for me. But when he emailed me one day last month to talk to me about a lecture I’d recently given, I ventured to ask about making his portrait. He said that he probably only had a matter of weeks left, and that we’d have to act fast, but that he’d be happy to be a part of it. The next morning I was sitting in his living room making the painting you see above.

Photo Dec 20, 2 01 44 PMDavid and I pose with the portrait in progress, November 2014.

While I worked on the portrait we had a great conversation about education, travel, teaching, and family. After, while I worked to add in the mandala structure, we exchanged emails which added to our dialogue. Here are just a few nuggets from our time together:

On travel:

“Travel is the greatest education.” David has been to hundreds of major cities around the world over the decades, but has spent time in Istanbul, Barcelona, Copenhagen, among others, in the last few years. His eyes twinkle and voice grows excited while recounting past travels through Europe and Asia with family.

On experiencing cancer:

“I can’t tell you what cancer feels like, but I can tell you about how the treatments feel. I chose the non-aggressive path.” David had to make big choices about the sort of care he would undertake to fight his cancer. Though he has had rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, he chose to limit them both. Ultimately he went with palliative and hospice care over more forceful options. “My voice is my life” he told me, so he decided not to have surgeries that would have resulted in a loss of his ability to speak.

Photo Dec 20, 3 41 55 PMAbove: the piece installed above the mantel at David’s home.

On the goals for palliative care and hospice:

“I want to be at Home, surrounded by Others, be Pain-free, and Engaged as long as I can be. That acronym spells HOPE. It’s pretty simple, and that’s the exit strategy. I want to be a role model for another way.” By entering hospice early and focusing on his HOPE model, David has been able to spend a lot of quality time with family and even go to events like basketball games for his beloved Mizzou Tigers.

On Patch:

“I’m a spectator in my own body – I call him Patch. But I’m thinking, feeling, acting, and taking advantage of every moment I’ve got left. I have millions of moments to experience, so I’ll let others worry about Patch. Patch is off doing his thing; the hospice team is taking care of him. I was able to let him go. I think people who continue to treat their body view themselves as one holistic entity… they’re not able to separate to understand what’s inward. There are many things in the body that are happening and you can’t stop them. But I am not my shortness of breath or anything else that may be happening to Patch. I’ll just let hospice patch him up.” Calling his physical body by the name Patch is a way for David to both embrace the care that body needs and reinforce the distinction between his identity and his body. That body is passing away, but David sees his inner life as separate from the vicissitudes forced upon his “shell” by cancer, medications, pain, and general breakdown. David has found a way to grasp his embodiment without seeing it as absolutely necessary to his personhood.

David-and-Patch2014_angleAbove: The portrait shown at an angle to show the change of reflected light in the gold leaf.

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My notes about this piece:

The most significant material I have used in this painting is gold leaf. Gold leaf is a traditional medium to suggest the divine and sacred. I also chose to build a complementary-colored mandala as the field upon which the portrait is embedded. Additionally, I centered the transition between David’s physical portrait and his inverse, transcendent manifestation around the Crown Chakra. The Crown Chakra is is associated with meaning and identity in the context of divine consciousness and enlightenment; the part of us that passes beyond this mortal coil. Surrounding that arena of transition and transformation are laurel leaves, traditional symbols of victory and attainment. This piece is meant to connect David’s personal associations (his name, his body, his visage) with broader, more universal conceptions of moving from one state to another – higher, entirely other – state. I combine Eastern conceptions encapsulated in the mandala with Western notions included in the idea of the memorial portrait. In some sense this is an apotheosis artwork (as an example, see The Apotheosis of Homer by Ingres).

The painting is meant to suggest that a binary group is being presented: David and Patch, bright gold and dark black, transformation and deterioration, transcendence and impermanence, immaterial and material, contemplation and dissolution, enlightenment and illusion, and the circle and the square… there are many others that could be named. These all speak to ancient alchemical oppositions.

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I am honored to be able to celebrate this humble and gentle man. Even in the last days and hours of his life he is encouraging, hopeful, loving, and inclusive. He has been given the great gift of applying his life-long study of aging and dying to his own direct experience, and he’s drawn others into it with joy. I’m so thankful I got to include David in my portrait series.

Thank you, David!

PS: And a thank you to Debbie, David’s wife! She crafted this beautiful handmade textile piece for my new son:

Photo Dec 20, 3 32 03 PM

Museum Show!

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I’ll be giving a talk today at an event for the Mizzou Interdisciplinary Center on Aging at the Museum of Art and Archeology. This talk is on the subject of mediated attention and the ways I try to teach (and learn) through the various technologies that surround us (Click HERE if you’re interested in attending the event – it’s November 4, 2014 at 4PM).

The wonderful thing about this event today is that it’s the first public viewing of an exhibition I have guest-curated at the Museum. This show, called Touching the Past: Student Drawings From the Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts, will be up throughout the month of November and into December. It features 22 artworks by my former students. Student drawings from the likes of Jacob Maurice Crook, Kate Miers, and Allison Jacqueline Reinhart feature prominently. The Museum is open 10am until 4pm Monday through Friday, so come visit the show any time!

S2012_DRW1_CastGalleryStudents working in the Cast Gallery a few semesters ago.

Working in the Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts is one of the most important experiences I can give to my students. I hope you’ll stop by and see works like the ones shown below.

drw1-2013-02Hannah Wallace, Wide Angle Study of Figures in the Cast Collection. 18 by 24 inches, graphite on paper.

DSC07052Kate Miers, Study of Artemis. 24 by 18 inches, graphite on paper.

One special guest I invited to have work in this exhibition is fellow teacher and artist Chris Fletcher. His sensitive, searching drawings from the Mizzou Casts seem deceptively simple. But having spent the last 25+ years studying drawing and painting, I can tell you that they are masterworks of human subjectivity and focused engagement. I love the little marginalia notes he leaves for himself on the edges of the works, and the inquisitive-yet-firm nature of his working. Don’t pass by this small pieces when you visit the show. Really, really great stuff.

List of artists in the Touching the Past exhibition:

Olaia Chivite Amigo

Matthew Ballou

Maggie Berg

Amanda Bradley

Jacob Maurice Crook

Chris Fletcher

Emily Gogel

Terisia Hicks

Rachael Liberty

Kate Miers

Aubrey Miller

Delia Rainey

Allison Reinhart

Tianyuan Ren

David Spear

Andi Tockstein

Duy Tran

Hannah Wallace

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DSC07075Detail of Andi Tockstein’s Study of Apollo… you need to see this drawing in person!