Matt and Marcus Take Saint Louis

Yesterday my good friend Marcus Miers and I added to our collection of trips to view art together (here’s Dallas/Fort Worth and here’s the Milwaukee Art Museum) by trundling off to Saint Louis, Missouri. We took in two locations: The Saint Louis Art Museum and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, which is known for its extensive mosaics.

Before heading to see the art we stopped at SweetArt Cafe (located at 2203 S. 39th Street, St. Louis, MO 63110), a place of vegan and confectionery glory. HOLY. MOLY. SO good!

IMG_7104Here’s the meal I had at SweetArts – Tom’s Throwback Veggie Burger and Kale Salad. Really great!

IMG_7105Marcus enjoying his burrito!

After the food we headed to the SLAM.

IMG_7109Marcus enjoying Guston…

IMG_7119…and Betty…

IMG_7144…and the elevator.

We particularly liked Andréa Stanislav’s installation piece about Saint Louis.

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We also enjoyed Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone Sea installation piece.

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After the SLAM, we headed over to the Basilica. I only recently learned about this cathedral from my friend Billy, and wasn’t entirely prepared for how awesome it is.

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I really responded to the visual dynamics of the various designs, especially at the smaller scales along the columns. See below:

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The overhead archways and exquisitely detailed geometric mosaics up there were glorious:

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Just unreal.

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Here we are, looking intently at our social media devices and preparing to document the art.

It was a great time. As always, laughter and deep conversation were had. I’m really thankful for Marcus, his weirdness, passion, and sense of humor. Another awesome trip in the books!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Barry Gealt’s Graduate Orientation Document, 2003

At Indiana University back in 2003, I began graduate school with an amazing cohort of artists and learners. We found a fiery mentor in Barry Gealt. The first day that we met as a group in a restaurant in downtown Bloomington, Barry gave us an orientation document full of questions and assertions. I present it below for posterity (and because Matt Choberka‘s request caused me to go dig it out of my long dormant graduate school notes).

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Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 11.59.44 AMPage 3 – my first caricature of Barry…

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 11.59.49 AMAnd here’s a PDF of the whole thing if you’d like to save it: BarryGealt-GradOrientation2003.

Details From “Subject and Subjectivity” at Western Illinois University

I was honored to be able to give a couple talks, hang out with students, and enjoy time with my former graduate students Ian and Natalie Shelly at Western Illinois University over the last couple of days. The second iteration of the exhibition I curated, Subject and Subjectivity, has been on display at WIU for January and will go on through most of February. As I did when the show went up in Baltimore, I have taken some detail shots of some of the work. See below, click for larger glory, and follow the artists’ names to find out more about them on their websites.

If you want to see one of the talks I gave – titled We Are All Sentimentalclick here to see the video on YouTube.

imageAnne Harris, detail from Figuring Ground.

imageMegan Schaffer, detail from Eagle Bluffs Trail to Overlook.

imageDavid Campbell, detail from Death Transmission.

imagePeter Van Dyck, detail from Richard’s House.

imageDavid Jewell, detail from Still Life.

imageAaron Lubrick, detail from Autumn on the River.

imageMatt Klos, detail from Those Nights Then.

imageCarolyn Pyfrom, detail from Studio Mirror.

imageChristian Ramirez, detail from White Bull.

imageJohn Lee, detail from Submariner.

imageMatt Ballou, detail from Portrait of Cai Qun.

Obligatory Year End Lists

People make year end lists at the end of every year. They are the throw-away columns of many a blog, magazine, and newspaper. Rather than protesting, let’s just make a few of our own. For mine, I shall embrace my own sentimentality and opinions – which is really what’s going on in all of the other lists anyway.

Here we go.

TOP CNC ROUTERS OF 2015

  1. X-Carve by Inventables. Follow this blog for more projects coming in 2016.

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Above: a bit of debris from a recent routing job.

~

LIST OF STAR WARS FILMS AS OF 2015 IN RANK ORDER WITH LETTER SCORE

  1. Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back ~ A
  2. Star Wars Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi ~ A-
  3. Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope ~ B+
  4. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens ~ B-
  5. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace ~ C
  6. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith ~ D+
  7. Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones ~ F

~

MOST BULLSHIT EVENTS OF 2015 (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

  1. Bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan (by illegal coalition [i.e. US] forces, continued after multiple calls for cease fire).
  2. Death of Sandra Bland (unarmed and in police custody – no indictments).
  3. Death of Walter Scott (unarmed and running away, evidence planted, caught on video).
  4. Death of Freddie Gray (unarmed and in police custody).
  5. Charleston, SC church massacre.
  6. Mass shootings ~Roseburg, OR; Chattanooga, TN; Planned Parenthood, CO; San Bernardino, CA; Paris, etc, etc, etc…
  7. Donald Trump.

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Image above by Brandon Loving. Click the image to see his website, or check out his stuff on Instagram here.

~

BEST MUSIC I DISCOVERED THIS YEAR (MEANING IT COULD BE FROM OTHER YEARS, YO)

  1. Hiatus Kaiyote. “Breathing Underwater” is the money track.

This band is worthy. Go Listen.

PILLAYO

2. Dubb Nubb. “It’s Weird in This World” is the album. “Sister’s House” is the song. Check it out here – then buy some tracks. Good stuff.

3. The Go Round. “Hard Tellin’ Not Knowin’” is the album. “Headless Horseman” is the key track. Get to them here.

4. Tie: Wolf Alice – “Blush” / St. Vincent – “Cheerleader” / Timber Timbre – “Magic Arrow

~

TOP PHYSICAL DISTRESSES OF 2015

  1. That time I had chest pain and went to the ER and they took an awesome ultrasound of my heart muscle and valves.
  2. That time I was forced to rest for 3 solid days because I threw my back out and, perhaps, finally herniated a disc (this item is ongoing).

~

BEST WIFI/BLUETOOTH CONTROLLED LIGHTING

  1. LIFX. I tried out a few competitors, but absolutely love these for teaching my classes and for use in my own work. See some examples below:

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Above and Below: Two different setups I made this year with my LIFX bulbs.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.36.29 AMFile Dec 29, 11 33 33 AM Above: An in-class demo figure study I made using my iPad and Adonit Jot Touch in Sketchbook Pro. The scene was lit with my LIFX bulbs. Click for enlargement.

Below: Two drawings from an LIFX setup. The first is by Mitzi Salinas Dominguez and the second is by Bri Heese.

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~

BEST WIFE

  1. Alison. Long-suffering. Helpful. Sees the grace and the good. Seeks to bless others. A fruitful teacher. A forgiving mother. None of these years would make sense without her.

Another Day, Another Dangle – Neil Gavett

Neil Gavett is a well-known model for artists in central Missouri, and has worked with basically all of the art departments in the area (click here for an earlier piece about him). In September 2015 he’ll have been working primarily as an art model for 20 years. That’s major commitment to the craft, something Neil describes as “another day, another dangle.” Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Neil in many classes and have enjoyed his hospitality. Neil loves to facilitate shared experiences. In April of 2014 I got to visit him and share a lengthy conversation over an amazing meal (steak and shiitake mushrooms in a bourbon-based sauce) and several choice beverages (rum!). It was quintessential Neil, and I hope you can get a small sense of the depth and intensity of what it means to spend a couple hours with the man through the snippets of dialogue from that day that I share below.

neil2014image1Portrait of Neil Gavett: Another Day, Another Dangle. Gouache on paper, 14×11 inches, 2014.

On Cooking With Mushrooms

“Shiitakes are pretty hard to mess up.”

On Spiritual Plugs

“I remember the first time I heard that phrase about ‘many forms of electricity’: you know, something along the lines of, ‘it doesn’t matter which plug in the house you use, you’re jacking into the same thing.’ That was back when I first read Phillip K Dick and had been taking a lot of theology classes. At the time a friend of mine was reading Illusions by Richard Bach. My friend was so excited about it he drove four hours home from college and gave the book to me, saying I had to read it. It’s a book talking about the power of visualization – that the crisper the visualization is in the mind, the more you develop the ability of the mind to visualize, the more easily you’ll begin to manifest your reality. So the ability to be able to stop and count things, or to be able to discern differences in color… those are all in the higher function of the brain. The more you work with that level of awareness, the better your ability to move beyond fight or flight level engagement. So while taking those theology classes at St Bonaventure and thinking about visualization, I got fascinated with the relationships between the theology I was studying and the ritual theater of indigenous religions. It was the idea of symbolic movements and gestures that all have purpose. You can take that right into Roman Catholic ceremony or a Southern Baptist service with the theater of preaching, which both serve to raise the energy in the room. There’s also the laying on of hands or the mechanics of public prayer that focus the energy. The pastor or priest is tying the congregation together to produce the desired effect. The gestures, the facial expressions – they translate across spiritual systems and cultures. Also, there’s the use of specific types of structures. Think about the use of a cosmic axis pillar – the Axis Mundi – whether it’s the plume of smoke in a Native American ritual or a Christian cross or the World Tree for other faiths. There are certain common threads.”

On The Bare Minimum of Ritual

“When I would have friends who want me to perform the ceremony for their wedding (Neil has studied a number of Neopagan rituals and has performed the Handfasting ceremony many times – MB) the basic thing I do is simply give them a framework for what has to be there. I give them the bare minimum of what is needed in order for a ceremony to work. In all of these ritual traditions there are a certain number of things that have to be acknowledged and if you don’t want to do those things you’re not looking for a religious ceremony. You’re not looking for someone who’s at all spiritual you’re looking for a Justice of the Peace.”

On Jung

“Jung gave us a vocabulary to share with others what was happening in the mind. So many terms and concepts that we use to this day came out of his work. The idea of collective unconscious, in particular, was important to me. And that there are many ways for us to get our minds tuned toward that arena… those small moments where you feel yourself in sync with something greater than yourself. In reading Jung I first grasped the notion that the thing that separated us from the rest of the animal world was the evolution of a sort of meta-consciousness where we realize what our survival costs others.”

On Bartending

“I miss it. Definitely the most entertaining job I’ve ever had. Tending bar is like throwing a party every night only everybody is paying for their own drinks. And part of the job is being everyone’s friend – ‘the doctor is in’ kind of thing.”

On What he Has Learned Modeling

“Just wrapping my brain around the fact that artists see the world differently. I’ve had to exercise my brain to grasp that – to begin to see the green in a sunset or to see a tree in front of me as THE tree. Yes, that’s the main thing: that artists really do see differently. Through realizing that I started to understand that I was seeing less than I could be. So I wanted to try to learn that mindfulness I saw in the artists around me, their ability to see everything for the first time.”

Inspiration – Eric Sweet

Photo Apr 16, 3 09 28 PMEric blurred in front of the work of a fellow grad, Charlie Thompson.

Eric Sweet – a friend, colleague, and former student (in a few graduate classes) – died Monday, April 6th. It was sudden and strange in ways I can’t really describe. Yet his passing drew out much love and care from the people in his sphere of influence; so much of what remains is truly the definition of bitter-sweet.

Others have spoken much more eloquently than I can about all of this. But I wanted to take a moment here to memorialize Eric as so many of his friends and family have over the recent days. In the hours after he passed I made a few statements, but for the most part have been filled with silence. So here are a few more thoughts.

Photo Apr 16, 3 18 36 PMEric’s visage, pasted above the urinals in the Art Building bathroom…

I keep thinking of his graduate thesis title: Come to Nothing. The fact is that his life was the diametric opposite of that sentiment. He really did make something. He made real impressions (printmaking pun there). Real truths. Real observations. Real impacts. He was the opposite of a taker. He was not an emotional leech. While creating the work for Come to Nothing, Eric gave constantly of himself to encourage other grads and shape the graduate program. He could be forceful in advocating for excellence and understanding, but he did it out of a sense that we all really could be better. He knew that we could all be more thoughtful, more aware. And he helped us do that.

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Ideal City (Piazza Della Civilita Italiana), Hand pressed low relief blind embossment, 27” x  32”

Eric and his wife Catherine were the first graduate students I interacted with who really felt like colleagues and authorities from the very first time I met them. I often left meetings with them feeling that they were the ones doing the instruction, not me. This was – and is – a very good thing to experience. I have always felt edified by my time with them, and have loved the way Eric cast such a huge positive shadow over the graduate program at Mizzou. Grace and insightful clarity permeated their discussions. You knew you were getting straight talk from Eric.

Photo Apr 16, 3 18 27 PMA typical note from Eric to his students.

That straight talk continued after his death. In going over graduate review notes (faculty who attend a graduate’s review give feedback and vote on the student’s potential to continue on in the program), we noticed some from Eric. He’d been invited to attend review as one of our current Adjunct Professors, and he had taken the time to interact with the ideas of our current grads. Sharp and precise, Eric pulled no punches. He was a teacher right up to the end.

1935079_966535378259_7573425_nHanging out at Klik’s.

On the day of his Memorial Potluck, I was able to place a tribute to Eric on a large drawing at a local restaurant. If you’d like to see a time lapse of the drawing as I made it, watch below (or click here):

Time Lapse of Chalk Pastel Drawing at Gunter Hans, April 11, 2015

from matthewballou on Vimeo.

1907519_10105539051084089_281031879456274633_nEric at the first Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage movie viewing.

One of the most lasting things Eric gave us was his love for Catherine, which is one of the best love stories I’ve gotten to see up close. Their marriage was a testament to a couple being able to get over themselves in order to become more like their true selves. Their marriage made them more human and more transcendent. What a tremendous gift they pictured together.

~

I’m grateful to have known you, Eric. RIP.

~

The Teacher (Ms Sharyn Hyatt-Wade)

Photo Mar 18, 8 11 39 AMThe Teacher (Ms Sharyn Hyatt-Wade), Pastel on Black Paper, 30 by 22 inches, 2014.

Sharyn Hyatt-Wade is synonymous with engaged, passionate teaching here in Mid Missouri. If you ask any of her former students, you’ll hear no end of what this woman has brought to her classrooms over the years. Though she recently retired from teaching high school art after many years, she’s currently a part of the faculty at the University of Missouri. Now she’s working with our Art Ed graduate students to help shape them into the sorts of educators who make real impacts on kids’ lives. Too often public education is about the bottom line: teaching to the test to obtain granular data for the administrative types who allocate funds. Teachers like Sharyn live far beyond that simple concept; they aim to change lives, validate individual experiences, and advocate for student-based successes.

Sharyn’s power and exuberance are kinetic and contagious. She has an uncanny ability to get other people around her on board with her almost instantaneously. She’s a true leader and lover of people. I’m so thankful she’s in our community and is still giving of herself to bring better educational opportunities to everyone. What an amazing career she’s had. What a huge impact. Thanks, Sharyn.

~

If you’re a former student of Sharyn – at any level, in any capacity – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them in the comments below if you want to!

Opening at Cade Center for Fine Arts at Anne Arundel

Today I had the great pleasure of giving two talks (Meaning in Objects and Trajectories) to students and others at Anne Arundel just outside of Baltimore, MD. The turnout and response were wonderful; it was especially nice to have my father in law Steve and brother in law Daniel attend the main talk for moral support!

Tonight, the show I curated here – Subject and Subjectivity – will have an opening reception. To celebrate this I’m going to post a few pictures of the work below. It really is astounding and humbling to get to have my work on walls with people I’ve admired, shown to students, and studied for so many years. Artists like Catherine Kehoe, Anne Harris, and David Campbell have been in my head for a decade. It’s wonderful to have put the show together, to see their surfaces and handiwork, and – beyond all of that – to have my show be associated with a sister exhibition at St John’s College: A Lineage of American Perceptual Painters, curated by Matt Klos (who has work in my show). These two exhibitions, happening just 15 minutes away from each other, are a painter’s goldmine. If you’re in the area, come see them!

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imageDetail of work by Erin Raedeke

imageDetail of work by Catherine Kehoe

imageDetail of work by Matt Klos

imageDetail of work by Christian Ramirez

imageDetail of work by David Jewell

imageDetail of work by Anne Harris

imageDetail of work by David Campbell

imagePanorama of the main room of the exhibition.

 

Exhibition info:

A Lineage of American Perceptual Painters,
The Mitchell Gallery
St John’s College
60 Campus Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21401
Running through March 1, 2015

Subject and Subjectivity
The Cade Center for Fine Arts
Ann Arundel Community College
101 College Parkway
Arnold, MD 21012-1895
Running thought February 26, 2015

~

Many thanks to all who made this possible, especially the artists:

Anne Harris

David Jewell

Catherine Kehoe

Matt Klos

John Lee

Aaron Lubrick

Carolyn Pyfrom

Erin Raedeke

Christian Ramirez

Brian Rego

Megan Schaffer

Shannon Soldner

Peter Van Dyck

~

 

Becoming the Student, #20: Graham Higgs

imageProfessor Graham Higgs Gloriously Lit. Digital painting, dimensions variable, 2014. Click to view LARGE.

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.

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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.