Collaboration

In my experience, there are very few artists who are NOT, at heart, essentially collaborative (I recently wrote about artist collaborations here). Certainly there is a neurosis to creative living that sometimes results in isolation and resistance to the free flow of ideas and actions. That’s a stereotype, though.

Above: Three Exquisite Corpse drawings I made with two of my daughters – Miranda and CaiQun. Graphite on paper, 11×8.5 inches, August 2017.

The truth is that we find strength in our collaborative efforts. This is true whether the collaboration is in the context of specific works of art or if it is (as it often is) in the context of making community. So many artists I know advocate for each other – that’s collaboration. So many artists I know curate shows, craft opportunities behind the scenes, and act as allies to those around them. That’s real collaboration.

They do this without expecting or needing a slap on the back.

In my own life as an artist, especially since I started teaching full time, collaboration and shared creation has been gigantic. I also think my children have played a huge role in developing my sense of receptivity and shared ownership of creative endeavors.

We aren’t islands. We don’t have to be disconnected. Connection is hard – it makes us vulnerable and awkward. It also forces us to mature, to live beyond a kind of precious singularity or purity of thought and action. It asks us to believe in other people and to believe in ourselves.

I’m posting a few of my current/recent collaborations here. Of course, my best and most central collaboration is with Alison. But in terms of art, the pieces I’m showing here are ones I’m really proud of.

img_7422Above: Collaboration with Kyle Hendrix – in progress. Ceramic, paint. Approximately 10x10x10inches. 2017.

Below: Works made with Joel T Dugan. First is Plié – Oil, acrylic, marker on shaped panel. Approximately 10.5 by 10.5 by 1.5 inches. 2016-2017. Below that is Jaunt – Oil, acrylic, marker and spray paint on shaped panel. Approximately 11 by 11 by 1.5 inches. 2016-2017.

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The collaboration with Joel has been very important to my development, especially since my heart attack in 2016. There is a constellation of Indiana University MFA grads scattered across the US, and I feel as if we are all constantly jostling each other. It is not uncommon to see many of us working together. I think that says something about the strength of that program. I am always aware of what many of the IU people are doing. Their work motivates me and challenges me.

Another friend I’ve worked with on and off over the years is my former student Allison Reinhart. We’ve worked on a variety of projects over the years, from exhibitions to prints, but right now we are building a very special box. The mirrored box, which I am fabricating, and that Allison conceptualized and is designing the external features of, is a container of containment.

Above: views of the mirror box – approximately 14x14x14 inches, 2015-2017.

My professional work over the last half decade has included a significant curatorial component. This means building proposals, playing with ideas, working with artists, finding funding, giving talks, and really so much more. I’ve gotten the chance to work with some of my heroes – like Anne Harris and Tim Lowly – through this process.

Right now I’m coordinating with several awesome artists for a show that I hope with travel to a number of venues – our first exhibition opens at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery at the University of Missouri the last week of September 2017. In particular, it is so wonderful to have the chance to present works by Sharon Butler and Gianna Commito. These women are two of my favorite painters, and the way they challenge and nurture painting as a form is inspirational.

Perhaps the most effective art collaboration I have is the one with Deborah Huelsbergen at Mizzou. Deborah is a graphic designer, lover of mandalas, and fierce advocate for the power of teaching. She LOVES it. She LIVES it. And our university is better because she’s here. Over the last few years Deborah and I have gotten to give a number of workshops and orientations together, and I just love getting to share the room with her wisdom and passion. Whether we are leading other educators in exercises to stimulate their own creativity or helping new grads understand how to handle their classrooms, we always seem to know how to wordlessly coordinate. Deborah is awesome!

I am really looking forward to my upcoming collaborative exhibition with former student and current friend Simon Tatum. Whew – the Cayman Islands?! Colonial histories?! Cultural excavation and interrogation?! It’s going to be amazing – check back for more information.

And how could I mention collaboration without talking about my work with Marcus Miers? You Show Me Yours, I’ll Show You Mine. WOW.

marcusmatt02Above: Photographic pairing – a shared work by Matt Ballou and Marcus Miers, 2010-2011. We showed these works at the 930 Art Center in Louisville, KY once.

There are MANY more instances I could go into (like making beer with Norbz), but perhaps the best collaboration to end on is the one I have with my students. They come from all over the world. They have all sorts of different experiences and expectations. Yet, without fail, every semester we work together to build a fun, challenging, strange, stimulating learning climate that makes a difference. I couldn’t do it without them.

Making paintings, crafting shows, team-teaching… so many ways to become more than myself. I’m very grateful for that. Here’s to collaboration!

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Collaborative Online Drawing – for more information see here.

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Stations of the Cross Project

Back in November of 2016, I bid on a commission at a cathedral, calling for an exploration of the Stations of the Cross. It has been a number of years since I created a series of works based on a biblical theme (I tend to do this every few years or so) and I wanted to at least feel out the idea a bit.

While I did not get the commission, I have continued to develop the work from the proposal. Below are a bunch of the pieces in progress. Each is made on an iPad Pro using an Apple Pencil in the ProCreate App. What I’ve done in these works is dovetail my own research of Eastern and Western Mandala forms into an exploration of Giandomenico Tiepolo‘s Via Crucis from San Polo in Venice (Click through here to see examples of his works).

Here are 6 of the 14 images, in progress:

img_1448Stations of the Cross #6 – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus. Digital painting, 2016-2017.

img_1446Stations of the Cross #5 – Simon Helps Jesus Carry the Cross. Digital painting, 2016-2017.

img_1445Stations of the Cross #13 – Jesus Removed From the Cross and His Body Returned to Mary. Digital painting, 2016-2017.

img_1444Stations of the Cross #12 – Jesus Dies on the Cross. Digital painting, 2016-2017.

img_1447Stations of the Cross #1 – Jesus Sentenced to Death. Digital painting, 2016-2017.

img_1443Stations of the Cross #14 – Entombment of Christ. Digital painting, 2016-2017.

By investigating the color and composition of Tiepolo’s work without reproducing the details, I hope to draw out the relationship these works have with the tradition of contemplative spiritual works the world over. It is also humbling to realize that the source paintings were made when Tiepolo was around 20 years old. I see these as his MFA Thesis work, definitive proof of his mastery.

Having visited these paintings in person – more than 10 years ago – I still recall how astounding they were. Not as large as Tintoretto. Not as graceful as Bellini. Not as mystical as Piero de Cosimo. Not as abstract as Uccello.  But they hold their own as an expression of an artist growing into this own power and getting ready to pivot into his own realms of glory.

My aim for my versions of the Via Crucis paintings is to print them in large format (potentially to scale with their Tiepolo counterparts) then paint back into them, further developing the color and compositional shaping.

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.

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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.

 

Becoming the Student #9: Michael Winters

Michael Winters is the Director of Sojourn Arts and Culture in Louisville, KY. I got to know him when I had a two-person show at the gallery he formerly directed, The 930.

Recently Michael stayed at our home while coming through Columbia. He was a blessing, and a gentle soul to be around. I was glad to sit down with him to discuss art, life, family, and The National.

IMG_0117Michael Winters, Digital drawing, Dimensions variable. 2014. Created with an Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air.

You can see a video of part of the process of building this digital painting here.

It was a powerful couple hours talking to Michael. There was a great deal of vulnerability and humanity on display in our talk, but perhaps that is best represented by our shared love of bands like the The National:

On The National:

“Over the last year I’ve listened through all their albums heavily again. And with the new one that recently came out, I feel that the instrumentation is just so precise. So spot on. And his (Matt Berninger) voice fits it, too. At first, a few years ago, I thought his voice was – without careful listening – a little hokey. But that changed. I take it seriously. It’s for real.”

Favorite Line on The National’s “Trouble Will Find Me“:

“Everything I love is on the table…”

On the Power of Music:

“There are no short cuts. It only works because it makes you pay attention.”

On Art:

“If artwork is not going to emphasize craft then I’m going to expect a lot of it conceptually. So often that seems lacking. I’m looking for serious content.”

On an Under-known Musical Artist He Loves:

“Somebody pointed me to an album by Austin Crane under the name of Valley Maker. All of the songs on it related to the book of Genesis, but it’s all done really well. There’s a lot of interpretation there and getting into the mind of the characters. His most recent album, Yes I Know I’ve Loved This World, is very personal, very kind of first-person; his songs, his stories. I think it’s extremely profound. It’s just good song writing.”

On my Digital Portrait of Him:

“It’s wonderful to be seen.”

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Thank you for visiting, Michael!

Becoming the Student #8: Joel T Dugan

Joel T Dugan is an amazing painter and educator who works as a professor at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. A few weeks ago my family had the honor of hosting him for a few days and the time we spent together in the studio were some of the best drawing hours I can remember. Our conversation ranged wide. We spoke of everything from “ignorant faithfulness” to the “chase” aspect of painting. Especially beneficial to me was sharing our experiences in teaching. It was an epic evening.

IMG_0023Portrait of Joel T Dugan, Digital drawing, Dimensions variable. 2014. Created with an Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air.

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On Reality and the Ignorantly Faithful

“In terms of reality… I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the notion of individuality and that how we perceive worth can be so saturated with our own assertions we might experience certain things as so much more impactful than anyone else could.

What do we know? What do we expect? What do we allow to resonate? In my life, so many things have happened – circumstances have aligned themselves, so many nuances have taken place – that you almost wonder if there’s a Suspect at work, something that we might call fate.

But the very notion of fate is so saturated with the hoax-y, with… the ignorantly faithful, those who… allow themselves to… view things in terms of a Divine Plan or Divine Timing while not… taking responsibility for their own choices and motivations. That’s also about not being willing to accept any of the obvious cues that something might not be what we think it is. It’s often a cover up for really not wanting to engage with deep concerns. “

On Perception and Ignorance

“I wonder about perception. I wonder a lot about what truly is valuable. But then you just completely get lost in the kids and it’s always a great release to see that pure innocence and awe. I fear for my kids, that they’ll lose that wonder.”

We’re all subjected to selective ignorance. We utilize that state by default without even knowing it. We’re creatures of comfort in the sense that we love to feel like we’re right. It makes us feel like our efforts are fulfilling, that our existence is poignant.”

On Painting as Existential Chase

“I question myself about the impact of the things that I do, questioning what is the true exchange that takes place when creating art. Being able to share, or even just include, the viewer in the mystique of the work, of that chase… that very much is a kind of lustful relationship. And I just keep thinking to myself that if I could get closer to that same feeling of epiphany, of surprise and recollection that takes place when you struggle with doubts and failures – even after absolute trust and immense security – and you think to yourself ‘I’m a fool. Today is not the day’ so you turn away, put on your coat to leave…. But then you glance back. And you think, ‘That’s not too bad. You know what, with ten more minutes that could really be something.’ And after all the rest of that time it’s almost like you stole it. Almost like you took something that was just a failure and you ripped it from the hands of mediocrity and re-purposed it. If that moment could be shared with everyone you would never have doubt that it was worth it. But how the hell do you do that without just saturating it with your own judgment?”

 On Teaching

“One of the hardest things about teaching is asking people to be both more accepting of judgment and more confrontational with opinion. I just love seeing the light bulb turn on in their heads. You lay the cheese in front of them and they think they found it themselves; that’s when learning how to learn takes place.”

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If you ever get a chance to spend time with Joel, do it. He’s a man of faith, family, and joy. My daughters really fell in love with him and he gave them such positive attention and care. Our youngest, CaiQun, asked, “Can Mr Joel could be a part of our family forever??”

IMG_0521Mr Joel and CaiQun working with the Sensu Brush in ArtRage on Joel’s iPad.

  IMG_0560Joel breaking down one of Eric Norby’s paintings.

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On the Drawing I Made of Him:

“I’m glad you love my head.”

I was blessed to get to hang out with Joel for a few days – everyone is better for a few hours with the guy. Thank you, sir!

Working with the Adonit Jot Touch 4 and Sketchbook Pro

I recently began working with the Adonit Jot Touch 4 stylus. It’s a really phenomenal tool. As an artist who has been learning, working, and teaching in analog painting and drawing for almost 25 years, I have a really high standard for the feel of the art making tools I use. The Jot Touch 4 has been great to work with.

photo 3Interior of a Church, Digital Sketch created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. 45 minutes.

Pros:

* The Jot Touch really does have analog level pressure sensitivity. It’s not really like drawing with a pencil or moving a brush, but it’s close enough to allow for the intuitive knowledge I have of those traditional approaches to apply.

* Excellent feel – the Jot Touch has the weight and surface quality of a fine ball pen. Holding and moving it feels natural and I soon forgot that I was using it. The mark of a good tool is that it feels both necessary and melds seamlessly with the nature of the task. The Jot Touch does this for me.

* Effectiveness. Particularly when paired with a nice application – I use Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air and a Kindle Fire – I find the Jot Touch 4 to be exactly as advertised. I have always been frustrated with different stylus options I’ve tried in the past but this thing does basically everything I need.

Cons:

* Price. The Jot Touch 4 is not something most people can just buy on a whim. It was recommended to me by a friend in the iPad app development field; I expected that it was a quality item. In exploring the device I could see how superior it was to basically every other stylus out there (except the Sensu brush, which I’ll talk about in a later post). The Touch 4 is expensive, but it’s worth it for graphic designers and artists. It just feels so much more natural than Wacom tablets or lesser stylus options.

* The palm rejection isn’t sufficient. I tend not to use it since I almost never simply rest my palm on a surface while I’m drawing. I view drawing as an action that originates in the body, especially in the shoulder. Even when sketching in a seated position I tend to keep my hand off the surface. It’s not writing essays, it’s making a drawing. That said, I think that a broader, more robust palm rejection area could be useful. I have tried it out a few times and just don’t feel that it’s effective at this point.

photo 1My Daughter Painting, Digital Sketch created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. 20 minutes.

In the month since I started using the Jot Touch 4 I’ve made dozens of drawings, but a few really highlight how I use the device. Below are three movies that show a process of building a drawing. These are the prototypes for more developed demos that I will create for an online Beginning Drawing course at The University of Missouri next fall. The first two – portraits of friends – show the development of pieces made for my Becoming the Student series. Watch out for the posts about these two portraits coming up soon!

Digital painting of my friend Kevin Stark. Two hours.

Digital painting of my friend Michael Winters. One Hour 45 minutes.

Still Life Demo. One Hour 30 minutes.

All in all I’m really pleased with the Jot Touch 4 as it works within Sketchbook Pro. I have used the Sketchbook series of drawing apps for about a year and a half and have enjoyed them. The Pro is the best yet, and for the $5 price it’s completely worth it. Even without a stylus Sketchbook Pro is glorious.

Below: Red French Press, Digital Sketch created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. 3 minutes.

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Digital Sketching

Following the lead of a number of the people around me (such as Matt Choberka, William Dolan, Chris Fletcher, and Alex Herzog), I’ve begun to do more sketching on tablets. I’ve been working on a Kindle Fire using SketchBook Mobile X.

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Above: A sketch made from drawings and photos of a street scene in Guangzhou, China. This is an iconic tree to me, one that I walked past a dozen times, drew, took photos of, and have thought about many times since our trip in February of 2013. You can even see its foliage on Google images of the street corner where it’s located.

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Above: A sketch from the sculpture Hermes and the Infant Dionysus at the Cast Collection of the University of Missouri. I love the Cast Collection and have taught my students there for all but one of my semesters of teaching here at Mizzou.

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Above: A pile of the foam packaging inserts that accompany desktop Macs while in shipment. I use them as props in my Beginning Drawing and Painting setups.

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Above: A post-it note sculpture that hangs in my studio at the university. One of our friends made it and I love it. I’m sure it will appear in many more drawings and paintings over the years.

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Sorry I’ve not been writing much/at all recently. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet.