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.
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.
Illicit. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.
The Unfold (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2015.
Osmotic. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.
Sigil. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.
Sigil (Detail). Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.
Bent 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.
I’m starting a new section of my blog based on artworks that have been given to me – or ones that we have purchased over the years. Many of these are from students or colleagues, and I’m excited to share them. First, is from Nina (An) Flores. This is one of my favorite artworks a student has given me. This piece is a master copy Nina created, a drawing in oil pastel where she copied a ceramic slab made by Bede Clarke. She had the benefit and honor to work from observation on this piece, as Bede let her borrow or original work. The drawing is awesome. 14 by 14 inches on paper, 2012.
And here is a demo that I made earlier in that semester… I drew a portrait of Nina. 12 by 18 inches, oil pastel on paper. 2012.
As many around the country and around the world are aware, this past week at Mizzou has been harrowing. It was a week that culminated in the ouster of both the MU System President and the Chancellor. On Monday, before the strange, terrifying days that followed, many classes were let out in solidarity with #ConcernedStudent1950 and Jonathan Butler. I told my students that I’d be down on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle to witness the events. I decided that I would undertake a drawing to commemorate the day.
Above are two shots of me at work, the first by my colleague and former student Jacob Maurice Crook (Adjunct Professor at Mizzou), the second by one of my graduate students, Jeff Markworth (MFA Candidate, 2016). I was also photographed by local media, and one of those shots can be seen here.
I’ll leave the commentary to other voices. My purpose in all of this is to remain an ally for my students while representing Mizzou well and encouraging the change it needs to see.
Here’s the drawing I made. It’s not as refined as I’d like, nor is it my normal thing to do subject matter like this. But it was a good exercise, and a good day to be present and aware.
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.
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.
Detail of a work by Sumire Taniai.
Detail of a painting by Kelsey Westhoff.
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.
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:
Thanks for letting me draw your tattoo, Jesse!
Recently I wrote a short piece for the Columbia Missourian to highlight the work the Museum (and my students!) are doing; click here to read the piece. Here are a couple fantastic works from two of my students this semester:
I’ve asked my students to comment below regarding their experiences at the Gallery. Many of them wrote compelling reflections about drawing from the casts, so I’m pleased to offer them some space to share those thoughts.
My son arrived about 36 hours ago. He is healthy, beautiful, and strong. I’m thankful and awed. A few hours after he came, I posted the following image and words: “I nominate Atticus Garrett Ballou to eventually take awesome color pictures, or paint wonders, or write down glories, or sing high praises, or dream strange dreams, or tread with golden feet on far flung vistas, or wheel through the galaxy on spatiotemporal-controlling power… Or at the very least to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. 11/29/14, 3:01am”
My friend Frank (a great educator and thoughtful dad himself) commented, “With a name like Atticus, how can he help it?”
Well, here’s hoping that when my son reads about his namesake he will feel empowered. That we, as his parents, will believe that we’ve done something to impart the thread of grace and understanding that makes Atticus a worthy name to hold.
With a name like Atticus, how can we help it?
In the hours that have passed, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the epic person my wife is. I’ve now watched her through two pregnancies and one adoption (processes that are surprisingly equivalent and strenuous, believe me). She is someone who exudes a quality of character and force of will I’ve never had the chance to really know in anyone else. When Miranda was born, I got to see Alison’s movement through labor and delivery with eyes of terror and amazement. This weekend, however, I got to be a calmer, more aware viewer. I was much more keyed into what she needed and what she was doing. Seeing her come into full alignment with her body and her second-by-second progression through the final hours of pregnancy was inspirational. Above Left: Alison just toward the end of heavy labor, around 2am, less than an hour before Atticus was born. I was putting counter-pressure on her lower back and calling out the peaks and troughs of each contraction. Above Right: Alison, exhausted but calm, less than 5 minutes after giving birth. Often during labor she looked like this; totally within herself and focused on the event.
…and just a minute or so later, Atticus got that precious skin-to-skin contact with his momma.
I was pleased to get some wonderful down time with the two of them after the delivery. We were, I think, able to enjoy that first day in a way we were too blown away to when we had Miranda or came home with CaiQun. Something tells me that ease will be a hallmark of our experience of Atticus. He’s such a relaxed yet alert baby. I think those qualities are something we are all hoping to manifest.
I got to draw a portrait of him in the early hours today. I love this first little document of looking at my boy. I hope you do, too.
Last, but not least, here are those new big sisters. They’re enjoying (and being generally confused by) their new baby brother. Glory. Thanksgiving.
I’ll be giving a talk today at an event for the Mizzou Interdisciplinary Center on Aging at the Museum of Art and Archeology. This talk is on the subject of mediated attention and the ways I try to teach (and learn) through the various technologies that surround us (Click HERE if you’re interested in attending the event – it’s November 4, 2014 at 4PM).
The wonderful thing about this event today is that it’s the first public viewing of an exhibition I have guest-curated at the Museum. This show, called Touching the Past: Student Drawings From the Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts, will be up throughout the month of November and into December. It features 22 artworks by my former students. Student drawings from the likes of Jacob Maurice Crook, Kate Miers, and Allison Jacqueline Reinhart feature prominently. The Museum is open 10am until 4pm Monday through Friday, so come visit the show any time!
Working in the Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts is one of the most important experiences I can give to my students. I hope you’ll stop by and see works like the ones shown below.
One special guest I invited to have work in this exhibition is fellow teacher and artist Chris Fletcher. His sensitive, searching drawings from the Mizzou Casts seem deceptively simple. But having spent the last 25+ years studying drawing and painting, I can tell you that they are masterworks of human subjectivity and focused engagement. I love the little marginalia notes he leaves for himself on the edges of the works, and the inquisitive-yet-firm nature of his working. Don’t pass by this small pieces when you visit the show. Really, really great stuff.
List of artists in the Touching the Past exhibition:
Olaia Chivite Amigo
Jacob Maurice Crook
In this post, I want Professor Higgs to speak for himself. If you have a few minutes, please read the story below. If you give the narrative time to work, I’m certain that you will sense both the great truths and the gentle spirit that animate Graham’s life.
The Cry of the Spirit Leaving
By Graham Higgs. Posted here by permission of the author.
It was one of those blazing hot, dry days at noon in a small village in Southern Africa, where I lived as a child. Not a soul was stirring. The sky shimmered with heat, and the only sound was the empty shush of a dry breeze against the screen on the porch, where I lay on my back, shirtless against the cool concrete floor.
I watched a fly circling in slow motion and finally settling on the floor a few feet from my head. My cheek felt cool against the floor as I watched the fly brushing its wing with one of its six legs.
Suddenly, from a distance in the back yard, I heard a man’s cry, “Nyoka! Nyoka!”
This was truly startling. “Nyoka! Nyoka!” the cry rang out.
In the Swahili language, the word “Nyoka” means snake, but not just any snake. It means dangerous snake. The odd thing about this was that snakes were very rarely seen in the heat of mid-day. I heard the cry again, and I heard the back screen door slam as my father left the house. I jumped up and left the porch at the front of the house and ran around back to see what was going on. When I reached the back yard I could see my dad crossing the field behind the house toward the garden. In the middle of the field, a tall, barefooted man wearing only khaki shorts and carrying a long stick was standing and pointing in the direction of the garden.
My father reached him and stopped. They slowly advanced, and then I saw the big old king cobra that they were watching. It was slowly moving toward the garden. They followed it, and it became aware of them, suddenly rising up high off the ground and displaying its broad, golden neck with two hypnotic dark eye-shaped spots.
My father and the garden man froze. The snake dropped back to the ground and began to move more quickly toward a large pile of brush near the end of the field. Several other men arrived and all began to pursue the snake, which continued toward the brush pile and then disappeared inside. The men surrounded the huge pile of brush. With long sticks they poked into the pile, jumping back, afraid the reptile would attack. King cobras are known to be aggressive when provoked.
While all this commotion was going on, many of the villagers began to come to see what was going on and stood in the shade of the tall eucalyptus trees that lined the field. Women and girls stood and watched while curious boys ran with sticks and threw stones at the pile. Mothers called out at them and tried to get them to be careful. The men stood and watched and pondered what to do next. The day was very hot and dry, and some of the men receded to the shade of the trees. A sentry of 4 or 5 men stood guard around the brush pile watching for any sign of the snake. The crowd of onlookers swelled to include just about everyone in the village. Some of the boys kicked a soccer ball around in the dust, and a dry breeze lifted the fine dust into swirls around their ankles. Sweat ran down the cheeks of the men watching the huge pile of brush.
One of the men walked over to my father, who was standing with me in the shade. I heard him say, “Baba, we could set the brush on fire. That would surely drive the Nyoka out so we can kill it.” No sooner had he suggested this than a man came running from the village fire with a burning stick, and the brush pile was soon a blaze of heat and crackling light. Visible waves of heat radiated away from and above the fire in visible auroras. The intensity drove almost everyone away and back toward the trees and the shade. Even in the shade you could feel the heat of the fire across the field. The fire cracked and popped, but no snake appeared. An hour went by, and no snake had come from the now smoldering fire. People began to mumble, and some began to return to their huts in the village. Women took their children and said they had food to prepare.
About this time, a quiet whistling sound began to be heard coming from the pile of ash. The whistling became louder, and everyone in the near vicinity could hear it. It became louder still and began to sound like a woman crying in a high-pitched tone. Now the sound could be heard throughout the village, and it became an ear-splitting scream. People looked at each other, terrified. The Nyoka was crying! What could this mean?
One wise, elderly woman said that she believed that the men had tried to kill an ancestor spirit. “What Nyoka ever comes out into the heat of the day?” she asked. “It is a sign” she said, “a sign that we did not heed. In our rush to kill this Nyoka, we may have tried to kill an ancestor who was trying to talk with us. See, she does not come from the fire. She waits, and she will certainly take her anger out on us. Just you wait and see.”
This prediction filled the hearts of the villagers with foreboding and fear, and those who had returned to the fire to see what the commotion was fled from the scene, taking their children and mumbling in low, fearful tones. After a few minutes the crying became quieter and slowly died away. A few men stayed with my father and watched the last of the smoldering coals. Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.
With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, the Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.
With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, they found the king cobra coiled in a circle. Its mouth was open and the fangs exposed. It had been cooked by the fire, roasted under the corrugated roofing. I recall my father thinking for a few minutes after this discovery and then saying to the two men, “It is now clear to me what has happened here. As the snake cooked, it began to boil, and the moisture in the snake steamed out of its mouth and past the fangs, which created a whistling and crying sound, much like a penny whistle does.” The men looked puzzled.
One of the men was horrified. “Oh, no, Baba, this is not the case. This sound was the cry of the ancestor spirit leaving the snake. We have certainly offended one of our ancestors, and this is a very grave thing to have happened.”
He quickly left the field and returned to his family. That night as the village gathered to eat together and drink beer and tell stories around the communal fire, the talk was about whether to consult the Nganga (witch doctor) to see how they could make reparations to the ancestor. They believed that they had ignored a natural sign. They believed they had violated an ancestor, and they would be punished. My father tried to explain that this might not be the case, but the villagers would have nothing of it. They had their animistic beliefs that kept them in balance with nature. It was an evening of low talking and fearful discussion. Many retired to their huts earlier than usual. Only a few of the older men, including my father, sat and talked late into the night.
Early the next morning a 3-week-old infant died mysteriously while she slept. It was then the people knew that they had indeed angered an ancestor. The Nganga and a spirit medium and herbalist would need to be called to perform a ceremony to placate the ancestor. Women were asked to prepare extra beer, and the herbalist retreated to his hut on the outskirts of the village and pulled out his stock of hallucinogenic herbs and tinctures. Men sat around the village fire and talked while the women served beer and food and in their own groups ate and sang and danced. A couple of drummers and mbira (thumb-piano) players worked themselves into a chanting rhythm and flow that began to persuade those who participated to sway and bob with the beat. The Nganga mixed a tincture and filled a pipe that he lit and passed around the group of men, and the tincture was swallowed by the spirit medium, a man who normally was a very odd fellow, said to possess special powers of vision and the ability to talk with the ancestors.
The spirit medium fell into a trance and passed out on the ground under the watchful eye of the Nganga, who bathed his face with cool water. The chanting and singing became more communal, and some men began to get up and dance. The women, including my mother, joined in the chanting and clapping of hands, and pretty soon, everyone was singing mournful and yet energetic songs of placation. Late into the night, the spirit medium began to speak, and the Nganga called for silence.
The spirit medium spoke in a language that no one but the Nganga understood. After listening to the strange sounds coming from the spirit medium, the Nganga conferred with the village chief, who called for a moment of reflection. Then he spoke about what the ancestor had advised. He said that tomorrow we must kill a goat and 7 chickens and prepare a feast in honor of the ancestor. In addition, we must begin to respect each other and to watch out for the children of others as well as we watch out for our own children.
We must work more regularly in the peanut fields, as the crops are almost ready, and we must always treat strangers with caution but respect. After a list of these sorts of things, some directed specifically at a few members of the community, the ancestor related that life would return to normal. Within a few days, the community had come together with a new commitment to work productively and live in peace as the ancestors intended.
I broke some of my rules while working on Graham’s portrait. I really wanted it to live up to the power of his story and the quality of his deep, quiet mind… so I spent a lot more than 2 or 4 or 6 hours on it. While drawing him in his office at Columbia College, I had the advantage of seeing him silhouetted against a bright spring scene, the intense near-white greens illuminating his head as if with a halo. I worked this portrait back and fourth in Sketchbook Pro and Art Rage v3, with some editing and shifting in Afterlight, for several months. I used both the Adonit Jot Touch 4 and the fiftythree Pencil to do the work. I’m thankful for the conversations I’ve had with Graham and I hope to have more in the future.