Statement for a new exhibition of WHENEVERwhen works, January 2018

Note: I’m getting the opportunity to show a new group of WHENEVERwhen pieces right off the bat in 2018. Here is my statement for the exhibition, with a few of the works interspersed within the text. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful experiences at Sager Braudis Gallery over the years, and this is the high point. I’m pleased with their installation and think the work looks great there. Of course, I’m biased. I’d love to hear what you think. You can see some gallery information here.

Splint – Oil on panel with custom oak frame. 2015-2017.

For more than twenty years, my painting, drawing, and printmaking have oscillated between symbolism-heavy representational imagery and formal explorations in the tradition of 20th century abstraction. This seemingly broad swing of subject and purpose in my work is directly related to my conviction that the core visual dynamics of either mode are, essentially, the same. I often tell my students that I’ve been making the same picture for my entire artistic life.

Sometimes I have felt led to apply those underlying compositional forces to the service of representational imagery, and other times I have felt the need to strip away everything but color, material, and surface. When I pursue abstraction, the resulting work is a foray into perceptual and physical experience. Thus, even though the works do not depict discernible objects, they are still – to me – realist in the sense that they focus on observational and haptic (sense of touch) phenomena. Conversely, my representational paintings are always abstract inquiries into the nature of meaning, purpose, and human engagement.

Periodically, when the communication of abstract, metaphorical ideals feels incongruous to me, I move intuitively into abstraction. The last time this shift occurred was about two years ago. I was coming out of a long period of working exclusively in the tondo format and had begun to readdress the rectilinear format standard to most painting and drawing. I had rejected it previously because it felt too much like a window or door space. I was looking to depict my ideas in some other form of oculus, something more subjective and mysterious. I started, in sketches and digital studies, to break the picture plane in a number of specific ways. These breaks were related to the work and ideas of artists such as Magalie Guerin, Vincent Fecteau, and Marcelo Bonevardi (among others). I was also greatly influenced by my research into Eastern and Western mandala forms as well as the newer generations of digital painting and drawing apps I was using.

Then, at age 39, I had a heart attack.

The near-death I experienced purged my interests. Though I have completed a few straight representational works since that cardiac arrest in February 2016, the vast majority of my work has focused on a series of abstract investigations I call WHENEVERwhen. In the WHENEVERwhen series I deploy an array of formal strategies that accumulate over time and leave a record within the work. These strategies are diverse; they might function in terms of simultaneity of form – for example, an area may appear to manifest as both light and solid structure – or display a counterintuitive sense of weight and balance. I have also incorporated a significant amount of collage, relief cutting, carving, and digital prototyping into my working methods.

Icon Eikon – Oil, acrylic, marker, and spray-paint on shaped panel. 2016-2017.

Another significant development of the WHENEVERwhen series was my use of shaped surfaces and disrupted framing. I have been obsessed with making frames a part of the work for many years. At first I used clean, minimal float frames. More recently the frames both hold the work and are painted on or defied in specific ways – often through cutting and reassembly – in order to fit them into the pictorial language of the work. This integration of the frame is important to the sense of edge, continuity/discontinuity of the visual field, and aesthetic structure I seek. A number of my WHENEVERwhen works are framed in vintage oak reclaimed from old church pews and University of Missouri drawing desks. This 50 to 70 year old wood adds a density that corresponds to the surfaces and textures comprising my work.

The WHENEVERwhen series is serving as a kind of pivot within my life as an artist. I am bridging influences across history and media in ways I have not done in the past. I am pushing through old modes of working and thinking. My proclivities are both affirmed and challenged. My assumptions are acknowledged, and either used or left aside. Of course, this pivoting is also happening in the paintings, drawings, and prints themselves. Somewhat disheveled and awkward, yet bursting with chromatic beauty, these works are artifacts of aesthetic exploration, distillations of influence, and tributes to rigorous play.

Matthew Ballou – December 2017

A la Lutes – Acrylic, gouache, Sharpie, and graphite on relief structure. 2015-2017.

Here are some installation shots of some of the work… I hope you can come and see the work before the show closes at the end of January.

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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.

A Year Ago Today, Part Two

Well, it has been a year. A strange-yet-beautiful, tearful-yet-joyful, amazing-grace kind of year.

How do you mark that time? In stories that bear witness to the hard things as well as the sweet moments? With lines indicating growth? In snapshots of little girls becoming sisters or ecstatic family gatherings?

I think I’ve been more eloquent in the past. Today I’m just thankful and blessed. I’m not the best dad, but I’ve worked hard at it. And I think being a dad to two amazingly epic daughters has made me better – more – than I thought I could be. In all of this I’ve gotten to see my wife gloriously work divinely-appointed magic as a planner-of-life, kisser-of-wet-cheeks, and encourager-of-all.

How do I mark this time? I think I’ll go left-of-center:

chinamoneyClick on the image to see these up close.

These are four pieces of “Chinese money” that my daughters have payed with a LOT in the last year. They are, obviously, not real currency. Instead, they are three wet-wipes that came from various hotel rooms or restaurants we visited while in China. And that one covered in duct tape? That’s a strawberry Nutri-grain bar in there; it’s seen better days.

There’s something about their play money that’s joyous and fun. We’ve worked to keep the memory of our time in China alive,  as well as the anticipation that we’ll return again soon. Little indicators of that hope are all over our lives, even seemingly-insignificant ones like these playthings.

So here’s hoping for many, many more years to think back on what has been and look forward to what will be. What a good year to be a family of four.

~

PS: We’re celebrating over at the Etsy shop with super-discounted artworks – maybe you’ll find something you like?

Chromatic Intensities

 

Glory in Color Drawing 2

Marcus, the Assistant, casts chroma

Null’s large drawing in anamorphic distortion

The array of shadows in Color Drawing 1

And another view…

The box, electric.

Did I mention that I love teaching Color Drawing? Epic, every semester. Stay tuned for good shots of current students’ works.

 

A Powerful Vision of What Love is

“Your love should never be offered…”

by Hafez

Love sometimes wants to do us a great favor: hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out.

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a stranger,
Only to someone who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.
I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

There are different wells within your heart.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far too deep for that

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.

Even after all this time the sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me”

There is no pleasure without a tincture of bitterness.

ballou - towardessential - two nautillus

***

Thanks go to Catherine Armbrust for bringing this to my attention, and Paulo Coelho for posting it here.

She Draws!!

My daughter draws. See for yourself:

Working hard on the Magna-doodle.

A tableau with a foot and the finished work…

The facility of a Twombly!

Her mother interprets the ineffable script.

The work table is itself a work of art…

A swift, sure hand speeds over an uncertain surface: glory!

Ghost Writing?

One of my favorite songs, from one of my all-time favorite albums (Blacklisted) and one of my all-time favorite artists (Neko Case), is called Ghost Writing. Click here to listen to the track – I suggest a late night and low light and the tension of strange memories to enhance the listening.

One of the song’s enduring aspects is the short, whispered sentence that precedes the opening bars of music. I had listened to the track dozens of times before I heard it, and now it’s something that I love to bend in close to hear – especially when traveling late at night on empty roads, or ensconced in my dark studio trying to suss out glory from paint. Below is the section in question, pulled out and enhanced. What do you think is going on here? I’d love if people left comments suggesting possibilities….

Ghost Writing Intro Whisper (mp3 format)

Fall 2011 Color Drawing

Every semester I have to make more posts about how awesome my Color Drawing classes are. 

Above: Marissa Valentino’s amazing Colored Pencil drawing of a head from our group project.

Students assembling one of our large group drawings.

Hannah and Vincent hard at work on a final figure work for the course.

Emily Armstrong’s 44 by 30 inch figure drawing in progress on the easel. You can see our parachute stage setup there behind. We love that parachute!

Above and below: A selection of drawings from the second half of the semester we pulled out for a group crit – some in progress, others complete. Overall a great effort by my students this year!

India Watts working on her Matisse master study.

The final group project installed in one of the stairwells at the University of Missouri.