My End of the Year List for 2016

736086_10102402412852249_1203344152_o

End of year lists are jerky and predictable, and so I generally make fun of them while joining in. I almost always turn away from the year in question and just make a general ranking. I also like to make a list of material that’s been endlessly parsed already. Click on the linked songs to listen.

Today, I’ll be putting my own order on the nine studio albums of the great Led Zeppelin, a band I grew up hearing (one of my earliest memories is listening to records while standing against the Panasonic Thruster speakers my dad had). I’ll throw in a bit of commentary as I go. Happy New Year, folks!

Rank | Album Title | Order of Release | Release Date

9) Led Zeppelin I: 1st release – January 12, 1969

Key Track

  1. Your Time Is Gonna Come

8) Led Zeppelin II: 2nd release – October 22, 1969

Key Tracks:

  1. Whole Lotta Love
  2. What Is and What Should Never Be
  3. Bring It On Home

7) Houses Of The Holy: 5th release – March 28, 1973

HotH has a great opening quartet of songs; for me it is essentially tied with Zeppelin IV. Its drawback is a weaker second half, particularly (to me) Dancing Days and The Ocean.

Key sequence:

  1. The Song Remains The Same
  2. The Rain Song
  3. Over The Hills and Far Away
  4. The Crunge

6) Led Zeppelin IV: 4th release – November 8, 1971

This record is Zeppelin’s most well known. It’s classic and iconic, and always worth returning to listen to again. Four Sticks is, however, the real standout for me over time.

5) Led Zeppelin III: 3rd release – October 5, 1970

Obviously Immigrant Song is the most popular song here. But Track 5, Out On The Tiles, is my favorite. It’s all strut and bombast, much like Zeppelin was during this period of time. The stylistic development from 1968 to 1970 is mirrored across the songs of Zeppelin III. I especially love the weirdness of the final track, Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.

4) Coda: 9th release – November 19, 1982

I love Coda, a posthumous offering from Page and the boys. Basically a complication album made from unreleased tracks recorded during sessions for previous records, Coda shows how even the cast off bits from Zeppelin’s oeuvre were damn fine stuff. I really enjoy the opener (We’re Gonna Groove) and closer (Wearing and Tearing) of this fast-paced charge through the band’s years.

3) In Through The Out Door: 8th release – August 15, 1979

I am a sucker for the ballad/love odes All My Love and I’m Gonna Crawl on this album. But the epic core of In Through The Out Door is Carouselambra. This 10 minute powerhouse is a journey all its own. It retains its energy and over-the-top spectacle, and it sits next to Kashmir and The Song Remains The Same as an example of the real creativity and showmanship of Led Zeppelin.

2) Physical Graffiti: 6th release – February 24, 1975

Physical Graffiti was my main Zeppelin choice during my teens and early 20s. If I could go back and hear Kashmir completely fresh again I’d do it in a second. So many great memories… Also huge for me are In My Time of Dying, In The Light, and The Wanton Song.

1) Presence: 7th release – March 31, 1976

My go-to Zeppelin album over the last decade or so has been Presence. It is huge, sweeping, and doesn’t shy away from a kind of nerdy excess that would eventually be the realm of Prog Rock. In the 1970s they made most of this stuff without irony, and so the Genesis, Yes, Camel, ELO and King Crimson (etc, et al) albums of the 70s were earnest. In Presence there is a seriousness that, perhaps, earlier records didn’t always have. To me, you just can’t get more quintessentially Zeppelin than For Your Life, Royal Orleans, and Nobody’s Fault But Mine. It’s just about perfect.

Key tracks:

  1. Achilles Last Stand
  2. For Your Life
  3. Royal Orleans
  4. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  5. Candy Store Rock
  6. Hots On For Nowhere
  7. Tea For One

Have you seen the bridge?

When a man loves a woman…

…he renovates the main bathroom as a Christmas present while she’s traveling around the world to adopt a daughter. 


New paint, rearranged lighting and towel fixtures, new faucets and drains, and new caulk and sealant on toilet, tub, and sink. New moulding top and bottom, new registers and venting, and a deep clean (wire brush, etc) of everything.

I always try to do a household project for my wife when something huge happens in our lives. Bringing FangFang home is a huge Christmas gift for our family. I wanted to have something special for my wife on her return. Adoption trips are so tough emotionally and physically. It’s nice to have a bright, clean, and cozy space for a shower or bath at home… 


So thankful to my wife and all of the others who have worked to bring this beauty home. 

The Mind’s I with Anne Harris

Over the last couple of days I had the great privilege and honor to get to work alongside Anne Harris on an iteration of her ongoing installation project, The Mind’s I (click here for more info). This version of the project took place at the University of Central Missouri. Two colleagues of mine who taught at Mizzou in the past and who earned their MFAs at Indiana University like I did – Melanie Johnson and Chris Lowrance – were involved as well, as were a number of other UCM faculty and students. I brought several of my grads along for one day of the project, then I went back to work again the next day. It was a great experience.


Anne Harris at work on the project on Saturday, November 4, 2016.


Zach Nutt and Nikos Karabetsos at work, November 3, 2016.


I focused on the abstract shaping of my head foreshortened in a mirror. The strange roundness of my neck was compelling; these are some of the first self-reflective observational/figurative works I’ve made since my heart attack in February.

Below: I also incorporated some linocut Cloud of Unknowing prints into a few of my works; I really like how they turned out.

Overall it was that bulbous shape I was interested in, and how the ceiling lights altered and occuluded what I could see of myself in the strange angle of the mirror.


All of my pieces are mixed media on paper, 11×10 inches, November 3 and 4, 2016.

As you can see in the panorama above, the works were arranged in a grid to fill the space, and each one included date and time information. The array of times were an important aspect of the installation, asking viewers to consider the ween and among the works and their makers. The sense of a shared space, with each person’s intentionality bent toward the question of perception and identity, was palpable.


My piece (center) is to the right of an Anna Harris drawing. Two Simon Tatum pieces project from the wall below.


It was particularly cool to see Anne working and arranging the installation of the works. On Friday, I got to spend several hours in conversation with her about tons of topics, from misogyny in art to adoption, from color theory to the goings on at SAIC (Anne teaches there, and I earned by BFA there in 20o1). It was an amazing time. Anne is smart, warm, and inclusive, and gave lots of attention to everyone who wanted to chat with her. It was such a treat to get to hang out with her!


Above are several more works by my students Nikos, Simon, Amy Meyer, and Guigen Zha.


Above: Honorary grad Simon at work. Below: our host, Melanie Johnson working a self portrait.


On Friday evening a group of us went to eat at Brown and Loe, a fantastic restaurant in Kansas City’s River Market area.


Thanks so much to Melanie for inviting me and my students to participate, and to Anne for the great conversation and generosity of spirit she has.

Becoming The Student: Jacob Luis Gonzales

“Right now I have a Left Ventricular Assistive Device (LVAD) helping my heart function. When the doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital originally put this device in my body they said I had a 50% chance of living with it until July 2016, and I recently heard this a couple of weeks ago. This forced me to think about what I want people to remember about me if I do pass away. ” – Jacob Luis Gonzales, January 2016


Above: Conversations With Jake. Digital drawing, created in Procreate on an iPad Pro using an Apple Pencil. October 2016.

I’ve been wanting to work up a portrait of Jake for a while. The last year + of his life has been extremely hard. He went through 13 major (life-saving) surgeries over the summer of 2015, was resuscitated over 75 times, experienced fevers as high as 108 degrees, and has had to relearn how to do essentially everything. 

But I don’t want to just make some inspiration porn. Jake doesn’t need that. No one does.

I want to encourage you to hear his own voice, his own story in his own words. First, go read through some of that narrative at his blog. Second, consider donating to his on-going care. He needs help, from more complex stuff to just the basics. Go to his Go Fund Me page to directly donate. If you’d rather help out in a different way, I’m selling some artworks to help Jake and Ali: go here to see Situation and Circumstance Overcome – if you like it, order it, and I’ll give 100% of the sale to the Gonzaleses. Here’s what it looks like:


Lastly, if you are local and a friend, consider making time to go hang out with Jake and Ali. The time I spent drawing Jake was full of laughter, real talk, sharp wit, intense remembrances, and some solid sports and movie talk. They’re awesome people. 

Thanks for being a part of project, Jake (and Ali’s feet!).

Preparing for Halloween!

Once again we carved our pumpkins. It’s always a fun event and I look forward to it every year. Check out the kiddos’ works in progress:)


Atticus loved drawing in where to put the eyes and mouth for me to carve. Then I let him unleash the paint…


CaiQun really got coverage on her pumpkin!!


Finally, Miranda got hers underway with some intense primary colors, then some spray paint.

The girls did most of the gutting of the pumpkins themselves – a first for us! We also used LED lights in our pumpkins this year, which is also new. They look pretty epic:)

A List of Glorious Podcasts

A lot of people ask me what sort of aural stimulation I use in my studio. I have to admit that it used to be all music all the time for me. But roughly eight years ago I began to incorporate audio-books and educational materials (The Great Courses, etc). At this point I would say 90% of the time I’m listening to podcasts or audio-books.

Below are my favorite podcasts – and a few illustrations, created with love by me, for the best ones.

While the list certainly changes over time, and though this list doesn’t name every podcast I am subscribed to, the productions below are definitely my go-to audio accompaniments. I’m going to sort them into two groups. The first – Current Must-Listens – are at the top of the heap. The second group – Tried and True – are the ‘casts that always deliver great content and keep me coming back episode after episode, year after year.

Current Must-Listens

The Greatest Generation

img_0892

Benjamin Ahr Harrison and Adam Prancia bring joyful derision to our favorite Star Trek series – The Next Generation. To me, their repartee breathes new life into a series that has been endlessly parsed. Hilarious ongoing bits about Kevin Uxbridge, PiCosby, and Wesley (the boy? MY SON!) are the X factor. The quality of the production and the overall tone make this one my current favorite.

Highlight: Just start at the beginning. And don’t forget to check in with them on Reddit.

The Last Podcast on the Left

What’s got serial killers, conspiracy theories, and the greatest Jesse Ventura impression of all time? The Last Podcast on the Left does, “LIVE FROM YOUR GRAVE!” This one is not for the faint of heart. Really fun, very irreverent, and willing to make human monsters the brunt of brutal comedy, this podcast is a great mix of humor and information. This production should be considered rated R for language and explicit discussion of what serial killers – and various government entities – do. Kudos to Henry, Marcus, and Ben!

Highlight: The Illuminati with special guest, Jesse Ventura: http://cavecomedyradio.com/podcast-episode/episode21-the-illuminati/

img_0891

Undisclosed

Picking up where Serial (Season 1) left off, Undisclosed brought a granular investigation ethic and unique investigators to the ongoing case of Adnan Syed in their first season. Rabia Chaudry is an extremely educated woman and a person of distinguished accomplishments. She has advocated for Adnan and was the impetus for Serial to get off the ground. She and her team on Undisclosed – Susan Simpson and Colin Miller – have built a winning formula for compelling listening. I appreciate the sound of the podcast, the melodious voice and clear authority of Chaudry, and the sharp character of Simpson. Their second season is absolutely excellent.

See Rabia’s website here: http://www.rabiachaudry.com/

 

The Tried and True

West Wing Weekly

What else do you need to know? Actor Joshua Malina and Podcaster/West Wing expert Hrishikesh Hirway go in depth and behind the scenes with the amazing cast and production staff of one of the best television shows ever produced. If you love the series, what are you waiting for?

Reel Friends

img_0894

Josh Matejka and Jesse Slade host Reel Friends, an exploration of movies that is both highbrow and lowbrow. You can expect to hear as much about art house films and documentaries as you do about the latest super hero summer blockbuster. There is a nice mix of humor and serious analysis in this podcast, and a real sense of just a few friends sitting around talking about movies.

 To My Future Vinyl Collectors

To My Future Vinyl Collectors is Jesse Slade’s baby. He loves vinyl and loves listening to music with good friends over beers with a hearty helping of conversation afterward. I appreciate his commitment to conducting a full listen to the album in question, immediately followed by a conversation from those who heard it. A recurring mix of friends (including yours truly) stops by for these listening/recording parties, and the variety of voices makes it evocative. Definitely worth exploring.

Highlight: Listening Party #5: Fleetwood Mac – Rumors

TMFVC Blog: http://futurevinylcollectors.com/

Star Wars Minute

SWM makes the franchise both more fun and less impressive in an interesting way. What I mean is that when you see the weaknesses and plot holes and poor choices from a minute-by-minute perspective, well, it makes you question not only your own appreciation for the movies but also the sanity of those who made them. So on the one hand you get a wonderful glimpse into the mechanics of what’s happening throughout the scenes and with the characters. On the other hand you get to parse the idiocies and embrace them for what they are – entertainment.

Casefile

A true crime podcast with an international team, this venture brings a unique perspective to a genre that’s been so dominated by American voices and problems. Sometimes Rated R for descriptions of violent crimes.

Criminal

Phoebe Judge crafts a distinctive, beautiful podcast that is about much more than criminals and crimes. It’s about the human condition first and foremost, and it causes engaged listeners to question their assumptions. Highly recommended.

Revisionist History

Malcolm Gladwell explores history, meaning, sociology, economics, and so much more, all with his distinctive perspective. A challenging, forceful excursion into what is going on in the world.

Sawbones

This is one of the most fun podcasts out there. Geeky with a double dose of Pliny, Sawbones makes medical history – and in particular, the developments that brought us to medicine as it is today – super interesting and connected to every day life. Dr. Sydnee McElroy has a wonderful presence in this podcast, and she plays the straight man to her husband’s jokes with grace.

This American Life

The original and still one of the absolute best, TAL has one of the incredible and comprehensive back catalogs. It simply has something for everyone. My favorite episodes?

John Hodgman on The Phantom Menace, Sarah Vowell on guns, and an abandoned house in the woods.

~

There are many other podcasts I could throw in this list (I’ve got 22 on my device), but I think this grouping gives the best overview. What are your favorites?

With Jane In Mississippi

I was in a fun show last month with one of my former grads, Jane Jun! Matt Ballou and Jane Jun: Identify featured self-portraits investigating our sense of self and projection of meaning. Though I really enjoyed many of Jane’s works on plexi that were in the exhibition, I personally love this one that has been hanging in my studio for years:

scanA sketch by Jane Jun that she gave me right before graduating a few years ago.

dsc_0079

dsc_0103

dsc_0104

dsc_0105

dsc_0106

Above you can see installation shots from the Columbus Art Council’s Rosenzweig Gallery in Mississippi. Jane Jun and I had a two person show there through the month of August. Jane was one of my grads, and she was wonderful to work with. I’m really grateful I got to be a part of her story.

2014-05-18 23.02.38Us, pointing off into the distance…

Though Jane lives in Korea now, I was able to arrange to put on this show of small works about identity and self-portraiture using many of the pieces Jane had in her Thesis Exhibition. Aislinn Nolte, a former student of mine as well, is now the director of the Columbus Art Center and helped us make connections. I’m pleased with how she hung the show and glad to have gotten to show some strange works that I made in 2015 with this exhibition in mind.

Ballou - Self Portrait With HaloSelf Portrait with Halo, acrylic on canvas, 2001.

The pieces I showed were reinterpretations of self portraits I had made as an undergraduate nearly 20 years ago. You can see the two new versions of my Self Portrait with Halo at the top of this post. My method was to take images of these older self portraits and rework them digitally in my iPad. After satisfied with the digital states, I printed the works out onto canvas using a large format printer here in the Mizzou Art Department. Finally, I mounted the prints onto panel, sealed them, and then worked back into them in acrylic or oil.

These new versions of the older works – as well as the multi-stepped process I used to create them, were intended to critique and transform the meaning of the original works in the light of my life experience since they were first created. The process mimicked my physical and intellectual changes, and resulted in pieces intended to be funny or poignant.

ballou-selfwithcandleSelf Portrait With Candle, digital state, 2015, after a work made in oil on panel in 2003.

 I had a good time preparing these works for exhibition and hope to show them again at some point. I’m sure Jane won’t mind!

JJ!

Post-Heart Attack Drawings

My recent work, titled WHENEVERWHEN, is a series of abstractions. A few days after I awoke from my heart attack I began to make drawings; from then on I worked almost exclusively on the WHENEVERWHEN series. The first images I created are below. I made them laying in my old room in my mother’s house while convalescing. I worked on them within two weeks of my cardiac arrest. All are available at $75 each, unframed ($100 gets you one custom framed). Email me at mattballou(at) gmail (dot) com to purchase. Click to enlarge the works.

img_0734Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon and marker on paper, 9 by 8 inches, 2016. SOLD.

img_0733Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon, white-out, and marker on paper, 7.5 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0732Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon, white-out, and marker on paper, 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0731Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon and marker on paper, 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0730 Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, collage, adhesive tape, ink, crayon and marker on paper, 10.25 by 9 inches, 2016.

My Little Brother Started College This Semester

destin4Destin, striking a pose…

I’m proud of the guy. He’s strong, smart, and pretty thoughtful (although it’s hard to find a picture of him that’s not a selfie taken in the bathroom). I know pursuing higher education is going to make him an even better thinker and doer in this world. His matriculation this semester is not only about his abilities and drive, but also about the vision that our mom had many years ago, as well as the guidance and mentoring our older sister provided. I think Destin would thank everyone – Walt, Stacey, and Denya, our Mom and Pastor Dan – for their efforts. I know he’ll make us even more proud.

destin2Stacey and Destin on a walk back in the day…

One of my favorite memories of Destin’s early years was when I’d come home from college to spend a few days with family and sometimes things would devolve into sword fighting…

destin1

destin5

destin3That’s some glory right there!

Destin, I hope your first semester is rolling along amazingly well. When things get weird, strike a pose with a plastic sword like the old days.

It’ll help, brother.

~

Ground Zero

In 2004 my cousin Chris and I made a trip to New York City. We visited Ground Zero and toured around the site, getting a view of the excavation, and seeing how the very early stages of construction were going. This was before any of the current layout for the area was even agreed upon. There was an impromptu memorial set up in the early days of the recovery – a cross made from some of the material left after the obliteration of the Twin Towers. By the time Chris and I arrived it was set aside, lit, and visited by many thousands of visitors. Here’s one of the images we took.

9-11-iron-cross

The aftermath of 9/11 is, unfortunately, mostly related to our National response to the events of that day… we can pretend that it’s about terrorism and extremism, but the negative changes are much more about the ways our leaders chose to articulate themselves  – and us with them – in the world. The world in which we have lived for the last 15 years is a result of those choices. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been killed. Millions are displaced. The electorate of this country is fractured and disheartened. ISIS rose from the ashes of those we killed. A cross should stand for redemption and hope. Unfortunately, we can see after all of these years that we are more scared, more disrespected, and more disrespectful as a country than we were back then.

I hope we regroup and regrow. There were moments of passion, good faith, and love in the days, weeks, and years that followed 9/11. We must nurture those better angels. I hope we will, for my children and for my children’s children.

There’s still a chance to look at what we once refused to see.

There’s still a chance to come back and no longer “become the evil we deplore.”

~