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.

Continuing Direction of New Work

I have been working on a series of abstractions off and on for nearly a year. Here’s where they were last October. Here’s where they were more recently in my last exhibition, WHENEVER/WHEN, two months ago.

Over the last week or so I’ve taken another step, completing two works (one is below) and starting a number of smaller studies.

ballou-interferometryInterferometry. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, window marker on panel, 25 by 25 inches, 2016. Collection of Bobby and Laura Schembre.

The new smaller studies are attempts to integrate my digital drawings with my physical hand. After printing the works out at roughly 10 by 10 inches (on an Epson 9900 printer), I worked back into them using high quality acrylic inks and some acrylic paint. See a first pass of works below.

KIC Document 1-2smallUntitled Study (Meaningful Shape), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 10 by 10 inches, 2016.

Untitled-1smallUntitled Study (AU), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 10 by 10 inches, 2016.

KIC Document 1-1smallUntitled Study (NV), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

Untitled-1aasmallUntitled Study (Zig), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 9 by 10 inches, 2016.

~

While I have worked on a couple representational images since my heart attack in February, I haven’t really felt the impulse to make those works. It’s strange, since that was my aim for 20 years. Not sure what it all means, though I do have an exhibition of representational works (which were completed in 2015, for the most part), so seeing those on display may get me going in that direction again. Who knows.

 

WHENEVER/WHEN

I’ve got a new show up at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, MO right now. The show, titled WHENEVERWHEN, is a group of abstract pieces I’ve been working on over the last year, including after my heart attack.

I’m posting some details and a few full images below. Please come see the show at Imago; my talk will be at 6pm on June 10th. Imago is located on the corner of Broadway and Hitt in downtown Columbia, MO.

Sballou-illicitIllicit. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.

Sballou-theunfolddetailThe Unfold (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26  inches, 2015.

Sballou-osmoticOsmotic. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.

Sballou-sigilSigil. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.

Sballou-sigildetailSigil (Detail). Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.

Sballou-benticondetailBent Icon (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26  inches, 2015.

Click here for more info about these pieces and a few other images of them in process.

Maintaining Momentum For Change At Mizzou

One of the big issues that has come up in the days following the protests is what can be done to keep the momentum going. The protests and interventions that took place this semester are intertwined with a huge number of categories, among which are:

  • Race and gender.
  • The rights of all students and the proper remuneration for graduate students in particular.
  • The failures of a business mindset in a university setting.
  • The responsibilities of administrators to deal with racial and gender-based discrimination.
  • The necessity of recruiting, mentoring, and retaining students and faculty of color.
  • The proactive development of the University of Missouri as a place where students and faculty of every kind can feel safe, heard, and valued.

We’ve got a long way to go. The national media certainly pigeonholed the protests and reduced the reality of what is, and has been, happening at Mizzou down to overly simplified binaries. They wanted to pitch free speech against racial tension. They wanted to make it seem as if the grievances that were being aired amounted only to vapid temper tantrums of spoiled millennials. They cast the reality of racially-based aggression as fantasy. They collapsed over two years of issues into a couple scattered spats about imagined racism. All of that was wrong.

So in the wake of all of this, how are we to be clear about the problems we face, the progress we’ve already made, and stay the course on the work yet to be done? These were the sorts of questions Dr. Maya Gibson had in mind a couple days ago when she posted on her Facebook wall. I met Maya at the Wakonse Conference in May of 2015, and that was one of the most compelling aspects of the event. Getting to hear from her then, and having the pleasure of a few interactions with her since then, made me want to add my voice to the others who were posting their answers on Dr. Gibson’s Facebook wall. I decided to post the questions Maya asked and my answers here to get a chance to express these thoughts out beyond Facebook.

Maya Gibson: Dear white MU friends and allies: what do you think MU could do to make it a more welcoming place for black people (students, faculty, and the COMO community)?

Matt Ballou: One of the main things I have been doing is curating the canon of art history and art-making techniques. Rather than defaulting to 12 or 15 dead white males, I strive to show the work of artists in ways that empower my students. That means showing artists of color, artists of underrepresented genders and gender-expressions, and artists of different abilities and disabilities. That means talking about these examples as Artists and Thinkers, not as some label or hyphenation that could be used to disqualify their contribution. Students need to see themselves in the classroom, in the examples that are presented in the classroom. They need to know the possibilities for THEM.

I don’t view this as fulfilling some quota – I see it as part of the central aims of my work as an educator: to provide and advocate for ACCESS. Most of my students are female; they deserve to see the true breadth of approach to art-making that’s out there and know the significant contributions of women throughout time.

I could keep going… I think this is what I’m trying to do in the classroom to keep the movement going. When they see the institution respecting people they relate to and who look like them, they can believe that the institution – or at least ME – is on their side.

MG: Thanks, Matt. If you can keep your list going, I would encourage you to do so. I am learning and I hope others are too. What are specific things you do to make Mizzou a welcoming and safe place for black students, faculty, and the greater-MU community? I love that you are proactive in the ways in which you shape and recreate the canon for your students. You’re actively resisting the model of euro- and ethnocentrism that comprises so much (western) art pedagogy. We have that problem in music, too. I also have to say that I greatly appreciate the way in which you’ve advanced a notion of diversity writ large. Do you encounter resistance, and if so, how do you handle it?

MB: In terms of specific things, here is one big thing:

I always try to engage with others in such a way that they – and anyone observing the interaction – believe I think they are real. One of the biggest issues I have with most discussions in the public sphere and in the media is that they can so easily dilute the REAL lives, REAL experiences, and REAL perspectives of REAL people. So whether it’s informal – walking past an acquaintance on the sidewalk – or more formal – in a critique session in class – I want to concretely show that I believe in the truth of others’ existence. This means, for example, thoughtfully building on the comments of my colleagues of color during a graduate review. That may seem small, but it shows my white students that I affirm the things my colleague is saying and it demonstrates for my black/minority/female students that I listen when an African American woman speaks. They can see clearly that I hear that voice. It may seem little, but this sort of courtesy does, I think, make a difference.

Obviously it’s complex, but I think the idea I shared above about curating the canon and then following that up with visible positive engagement with my colleagues and students helps create an environment where welcoming other voices and actually hearing them can build a safe space and a more legitimate learning space.

In general I don’t personally get resistance. I think that’s a reflection of my privilege. I’m a pudgy white dude who looks semi-homeless half the time; no one questions the legitimacy of what I say or how I look. But I have heard about a number of situations where the appearance and ability to communicate of my female and minority colleagues have come under question. And that’s bullshit right there. When I talk about black artists, no one questions. But I have known of situations where black colleagues of mine have been accused of being shrill or having an ax to grind when they bring up the exact same artists in the exact same sort of situation. That’s bullshit. So my job is to recognize that difference between my experience and their experience and state my support for them. They didn’t do anything wrong, yet students felt it appropriate for them to give these educators a hard time. That’s bullshit. So, yes, there is resistance… We need to be vigilant.

Another thing I’ve tried to do is speak to my students – the majority of which are female and many of which are minorities of various sorts – as if they know what they are doing. They are used to professors talking down to them. I don’t do that. Some times they really don’t know what they are doing but they need someone to look at them with respect and ask them questions and make observations like they ARE already accomplished. And THAT will go a long way toward them actually becoming accomplished. This is exactly what happened to me. My main professors treated me like an artist and thinker long before I was actually there. And that’s why I have had some success. So I pay attention to my students in such a way that they hear the message that their lives are important and they can do this thing I’ve set before them.

MG: Thank you for seeing, acknowledging, and recognizing me, which is what I want more than anything. I have grown weary of being negated, silenced, and rejected by the majority, some of whom are so-called, supposed-to-be colleagues. Thank you for modeling for students how to treat people. Thank you for slapping the mess out of my hand when I raise it (at least it’s grounding). In short, thank you for being you.

~

I realize that this is just one conversation among all of the ones that have happened in and around Mizzou over the last semester. I hope that in some small way my clarification of my own attempts to be an educator who advocates for his students can help. God knows we don’t need more white dudes mansplaining, but I wanted to honor what I saw as Dr. Gibson’s serious and heartfelt request to her white colleagues. The primary thing I have learned throughout all of this is that LISTENING is one of the primary ways I can be an ally. Over and over I’ve seen Maya and other African American friends say “LISTEN” when the cacophony of viewpoints swirled up, when weird racist stuff crowded in and fostered disunity. Listen. Hear.

Listen. For me, part of listening well and preparing myself to hear well is having a strategy. What I wrote in response to Maya’s questions above amounts to my strategy as an educator to create a space for listening to my students and hearing their perspectives. LISTEN.

Let’s start now, and listen to Nina Simone…

 

A Grateful Visit

I began my undergraduate art career at Munson Williams Proctor Institute of Art, the Upstate New York extension campus of Pratt Institute. After working for a while after high school, I realized that I would not be happy if I didn’t at least try the art path. PrattMWP was the start of a long journey.

I don’t get back east often. Between family, teaching, and creative necessities I hadn’t visited my alma mater there in Utica, NY for a decade. This past summer, though, I decided a trip to the campus and museum was a must.

IMG_2013Courtyard outside the main buildings.

IMG_2014Big sign at the entrance to the main studio building.

I had massively important experiences in these buildings, on these grounds. I had professors – like Lisa Gregg-Wightman and Greg Lawler – who believed in me and inspired me. Lisa, in particular, was key to my growing sense that I really could make a life as an artist. I recall one midterm review with Lisa when I sort of stepped out of the present for a moment and realized that she was speaking to me as if I really were an artist. As if I had a valid place at the table. As if my thoughts and opinions were worth hearing. I’m really grateful to her for guiding me in that way, and I’ve tried to function that way myself as an educator.

IMG_2020A student drawing hung in the hallway at PrattMWP.

IMG_2017A student painting near a stairwell.

IMG_2023A fantastic student figure study.

IMG_2024I remember doing drawings just like this while at PrattMWP in the late ’90s.

Though I couldn’t access some of the most important rooms – Printmaking, Painting, Drawing – where my skills were developed and my imagination first fired, I was able to roam those halls again. To climb the steps, feel the air, and see again the views through those windows. Sure, I’m sentimental; we all are, if we’re honest.

I couldn’t have known the adventure I was starting there at MWPAI 18 years ago. Getting to walk around the place 18 years later is gratifying. I’m grateful.

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.

image

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.

image

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.

 

Whale of a Tattoo!

2015-01-05 10.44.31Whale of a Tattoo (Jesse’s Arm), Pastel on paper, 13 by 22 inches. 2014.

I made this drawing of my friend Jesse Slade just a couple weeks before he got married last year. Jesse is a gentle man, always ready with a quick laugh and bright smile. That bushy beard he’s got is iconic. He’s got a talent for making seemingly simple statements that have – when you think back on them – striking depth. Such a good dude.

~

On being a big fish in a small pond:

“That idea is totally wrong; you’re always a small fish in a big pond.”

On hard experiences:

“It’s all growth, man. Every day, every second of every day. Just growth. And it’s growth that may look like it’s decay for a while… it’ll definitely rekindle.”

On the whale tattoo:

“Did I ever tell you the reason I got the whale? Jonah. The whale in this story is a beautiful sort of temporary savior, obviously speaking of Christ. Jonah only had the whale for that time, and then it was gone. Christ stays. I got the whale as a reminder of that love. I’m excited to get a moon next.”

On single-digit temperatures:

“It is days like this I am especially grateful I have a beard. #AllDayScarf”

On his favorite band:

Trampled by Turtles.” Here’s one of their songs: “Are you behind the shining star?

~

Thanks for letting me draw your tattoo, Jesse!