YNGWIE in CHICAGO

The show flier, my ticket stub, and a guitar pick that Yngwie flung into the crowd. I’ve kept these things all this time…

On this day 20 years ago I was in the House of Blues in Chicago, having walked just a few blocks from my dorm on Michigan Avenue (It’s now classroom space, not dorms, but I kept my elevator floor sign before the demolition started).

I’d only been in the city a short time. This was my first trip out for a concert – OK, sure; lame choice. From my room across from the Art Institute it was just a short walk west, then north over the river, toward the “corn cob towers.” Just a few years later they’d be featured on the iconic Wilco record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If only I’d been to see them that night.

Yngwie was effervescent and shrill that night. Loping around the stage, posing before his stack of Marshall amps, and gratuitously clanging his numerous bracelets and bangles against the neck/fret board of his trusty Strat.

He was bursting from his leather? vinyl? spandex? pants. He was in full hair-band-era-cry. Hair teased so high, chest exposed by some combination of V-neck shirt or vest or Pirate jerkin… who knew?

In any case it was glorious. Furious. SO. LOUD. Riotous and ridiculous and raw. He gave his all, flinging guitar picks and sweat with abandon. My ears RANG for hours after, and were even stunned the next morning. It was epic. I can still recall the feel of the cool midnight air chilling me as I rushed back to my dorm room for a smoke and a reprise of Rising Force.

Yngwie. So many arpeggios, so little time.

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.

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.


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.

Drawing Logic – Teaching Fundamental Drawing at Mizzou from 2007 to 2018

Examples of various line manifestations from my foundations drawing course.

I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds of students beginning observational drawing methods for over a decade at Mizzou. This is something I’ve been stimulated, encouraged, and challenged by. It’s wonderful to be a part of an ancient tradition.

One of the main points of the first few weeks of my Drawing: Materials and Methods course (foundations level drawing for beginning students) is the notion that line, in and of itself, doesn’t make an illusion of space (fig. A). Rather, value – the quality of light and dark – creates a perception of space (fig. B, C). To develop value we accumulate lines, adjust pressure on the tool, or blend the material with which we’re drawing (among other actions) in order to attenuate or amplify the line quality. The coalescing lines form a varied superstructure representing – in 2D form – the perception we have of 3D space (fig. D). These and many other lessons are certainly intuitive and, though they are not an exclusive method, do help novices recognize space and how to translate it. The first few drawings my students make are centered around these concepts. It was Professor William Itter’s Fundamental Studio Drawing text that I used in developing my own pacing, scope, and sequence in the teaching of Beginning Level drawing.

At Indiana University, Itter was a strong force. Having taught there for more than 35 years when he retired in 2009, Bill crafted and then honed a foundational drawing system that influenced me and many of my fellow grads. Over the years a number of the projects he either developed or adapted have been a part of my teaching. In particular, I have been inspired by his Cornice Combo and Linear Topographic Contour projects. Most of us ended up with physical copies or PDF prints of Bill’s collection of projects and syllabus materials (pictured above).

I think you can see the through-line of intention when you see Bill’s project examples and compare them to what I do in class. While I no longer directly reference Professor Itter’s text, it is a strong part of the pedagogical lineage I claim as an educator. Below you can see some of Itter’s Radial and Lateral Extensions, which were influential in my own Atmospheric Beams project.

Atmospheric Beams by Robert McAnelly. 18×24 inches.

Of all of the various projects crafted by Bill that I used back in the early days, only three are truly and deeply connected to my foundations drawing teaching today. Of primary importance is Meandering Band, as well as the aforementioned Atmospheric Beams. You can see that Professor Itter’s example images are still being reiterated through time in the work of my students.Notice how this Cornice Combo image relates to my recent students’ Meandering Band works:

Photo Aug 31, 10 54 11 AMMeandering Band by Hannah Westhoff. 18×24 inches, graphite on paper.

Professor Itter used many examples of gradients in his projects, and he began by asking students to conceptualize line quality through the idea of space and physical pressure upon the tool (at least that’s how I integrated his ideas into my thinking). So sample studies from Itter such as this one (which I use as a first class ice breaker project)…

…translate into more formal Meandering Band works such as this:

Meandering Band by Katie O’Russa. 18×24 inches, graphite on paper.

…or this:

Meandering Band by Seth Steinman. 24×18 inches, graphite on paper.

My ultimate aim in carrying on a very truncated version of Bill’s foundational drawing projects is really an attempt to establish the importance of observational iteration in my classes. All of my classes are, at their deepest center, about attention and awareness. My hope is that continuing to use a few of Professor Itter’s projects my students gain an understanding of what their eyes are doing in the world. The way we amalgamate visual and material structures into meaningful ideas is part of what makes us human. Now that we are living in an age where algorithms designed to manufacture our purchasing consent drive much of our cultural events and expressions, it is so important to grow in our awareness of how we are being manipulated by these systems. This understanding begins with a knowledge of visual dynamics and the ability to take command of how our eyes operate. I think Itter knew this when he created his foundational drawing projects, and I try to bring that tradition of thoughtfulness into the 21st century.

 

 

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