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.

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!

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.

 

 

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.

The Ballou Collection – Borovicka, Gealt, Ballougan

Last year I started a periodic series about artworks that I’ve collected – through purchase, gifting, or exchange – over the years. I’ve been thinking of moving some art around in our home recently, so I gathered up a couple nice pieces that I have gotten – one very recently – and put them together with one of the collaboration pieces I made with Joel T. Dugan.

Here they are – A wonderful Joey Borovicka window painting that I got just this past month, a thick Barry Gealt work of juicy saturation, and that collaboration piece that Joel and I made. I really think they hang well together. A little song at the front door of our home.

Here’s a nice detail of the Borovicka piece, entitled 4 Minus 3 Equals zero. Check out Joey’s wonderful Instagram feed for lots more of this enigmatic, compelling work. Below is a close shot of the Barry Gealt piece Waterfall III. Barry is one of the most important people in my life. He has an influence within me that is almost unparalleled. There are perhaps only 6 other voices that guide me more than his has.

Finally, the collaboration piece with Joel – Pile. Joel and I are in the midst of a collaboration of nearly a half decade at this point. We’ve been recouping recently, digging in for another push. With a number of shows together and a collection of roughly 40 works, our partnership has been a long term joy ride into the space between understanding and complete mystification. It’s been powerfully transformative for me.

So there it is. Another installation of The Ballou Collection. Hopefully I’ll get back around to it before another year has passed. Buy art, people! Fill your spaces with art from people you KNOW and CARE about!

LEGO Sculptures on display

Thirty-four of my LEGO sculptures, created 2010-2017, are on display at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery at the University of Missouri right now. These include five bronze pieces as well.

Since I was a child, LEGOs have been a staple in my creative habits. Often, when I am met with some creative block, when I am disillusioned, or when I simply need a change, LEGOs are my go-to outlet. They offer a kind of open-ended opportunity to make things without any conceits or justifications. Usually, at least for me, this kind of building amounts to a formal exercise within certain boundaries. After all, LEGOs are a finite tool. They have limited application and range. In spite of this, however, they allow for many hours of engagement and a diversity of resolution. LEGOs really are a creative partner in my life.

 

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve been interested in a number of practitioners of contemporary sculpture and their work has influenced how I have played with my LEGOs. First and foremost is Vincent Fecteau, who crafts strange, small sculptures that exhibit a wonderful sense of hidden interior space. Additionally, Barry Le Va’s dark and geometric wall and floor installations (and the awesome drawings for those installations) are also important to me. Didier Vermeiren’s solemn, dense sculptural works manifest a kind of austerity and clarity that challenges me. These artists (among many others) inspire me to play with associations of form and color, as well as with the implications of scale. Fecteau in particular has strongly influenced all of my work over the last 6 or 8 years. 

The sculptures collected here, both those made of standard LEGOs and those crafted in bronze, are meant to function like poems of form: slight, strange, awkward, yet solid in a sense. In them I have gone through an iterative process of placement and association. In my mind, it’s all shape dynamics and formal play. These miniatures have stimulated my paintings, drawings, and prints for a long time. At this point I see them as part of my overall work, though definitely a part that’s still in development.

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.

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.

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.