The Lung Situation

I wanted to give a general overview of what’s been going on with me health-wise.

I have a lung disease.

Sick lung…

It’s been making things hard for me for a while – beginning in June of 2019. That’s when an epic case of Viral Pneumonia hit me hard. We tried a number of things to kick it, and eventually a short run of steroids seemed to do it. But during that Viral Pneumonia my primary care Doctor ordered a CT to check for blood clots in my lungs (my sister had a lot of clots and died of a pulmonary embolism, so it was a fear for me).

The CT didn’t show clots… but it did show damaged lung tissue. Blood work was ordered. A culture of a series of my nasty phlegm nuggets was done. Over the months I’ve had dozens of tests. I had a bout of aspergillus that made it hard to see the underlying cause of things.

The last few months (August through October) have seen a steep downturn. My ability to get oxygen into my body has been really hurt. Without supplemental oxygen I am able to maintain an oxygen saturation of about 87%. I’ve seen it go lower than 79% at times. Normally, the average person is able to maintain 98 or 99 percent oxygen saturation almost all the time. Once you get below 91 or 90 percent your body can’t maintain itself properly; the fall-off is steep.

What began as intermittent exhaustion and strange bouts of breathlessness solidified into constant problem by August. I have worked out almost every day since my heart attack (Feb 2016), but I have not been able to do “normal” workouts since the beginning of August. Basically, I “earn” the same amount of heart-rate elevation and physical exertion just trying to get around the house and walk to my classroom as I used to get doing a full on hour at the gym. This is because I’ve apparently lost 15 or 20 percent of my lung capacity (according to the Pulmonary Function Tests I’ve had). Activities that used to barely register as effort at all are now breath-busters. I’m on oxygen all night long (5 liters pushed through my CPAP) and 30 to 40 percent of the day using my portable oxygen condenser.

I was given an initial diagnosis of Interstitial Lung Disease, which basically has two primary causes – either autoimmune or environmental.

The doctors on my Pulmonary team ordered CT scans that showed them two things: first, the “changes” to my lung tissue are continuing but, second, there seems to be no permanent damage at this point. The main issue with Interstitial Lung Disease is the scarring that can happen. Once lung tissue scars, that’s it; it’s basically permanent. But when the cause is environmental, and if the scarring has not yet taken effect, the situation can be reversed.

My doctors decided that a Bronchial Biopsy was necessary. I had a Lung Lavage during the same procedure (I encourage you to Google what a Lung Lavage entails… the more intense variations are something else). Unfortunately during this biopsy/lavage procedure part of my right lung collapsed. I spent the next 30 hours in the hospital to provide therapy to my lung and make sure that I healed from the collapse and the biopsy.

So what’s next? My doctors will look at the biopsy and lavage analysis to chart a course forward. My condition looks like a cross between Interstitial Lung Disease and Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis. I hope to learn more this week and trust that a course of treatment will manifest.

As it stands now I feel like about 50% of the person I was last semester. Doing everything – sleeping, getting around, parenting, teaching – is hard. I’m thankful for the support around me, good health insurance, good doctors at all levels (especially my Cardiologist and my Primary Care doctor who believed me when I said things were different with this).

I will update here when I know more.

Recent Artist’s Talk and Q&A

My current solo show, The Eternal Idol: Conflict, Impossible Scenes, and the Denial of Human Value, is on view right now (April 4-June 2, 2019) in the Montminy Gallery inside the Boone County Museum.

Detail of Head and Hole.

The exhibition features older work based in personal and spiritual conflict. One such piece is from 2001, created along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan amid the reverie of a pre-social-media world. A number of the large drawings were begun in 2006 and 2007 behind the apartment we rented on Elmwood Avenue in Evanston, Illinois. Little did I know then that those works would find their completion more than a decade later in Mid Missouri after many iterations.

The most recent paintings came from my fury over the US bombing of a Doctor’s Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October of 2015.

Detail of Current Events.

All of the works represent my ongoing attempt to picture the impossible spaces created by our collective unwillingness to constrain power, war, greed, consumerism, and ignorance – in ourselves and in society at large. Whether using documentary photos and videos or inventing from the history of the human form as a zone of violent incidence, I attempt to make plain the foolishness of conflict, oppression, and war.

At the reception event for this exhibition, I gave a talk and took questions from the audience. I present that talk here as a video, which features many images of the works on display and a number of photos taken during the reception event.

Detail of The Falling.

Here you can watch the video I’ve uploaded to YouTube. I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions you have – hell, I’ll even respond with more details if you ask me any!

The Glory of 2019 in Color Drawing

Listen. Look and Listen.

The recent work coming out of my color drawing students is phenomenal. They are thinking around my assignments, participating with the materials, and generally making leaps and bounds into understanding the physical properties of pastel and colored pencil (among other things).

Here are just a few of their amazing works this semester.


Sveta Wunnenberg. Study of Hose and Other Objects. Chalk Pastel. 18×24 inches. 2019.
Sveta Wunnenberg. Still Life in Colored Pencil. Colored Pencil. 18×21 inches. 2019.
Madison Read. Still Life with Strawberries and Glass Jars. Colored Pencil. 24x18x inches. 2019.
Devan Sweeney. Gummy Bears. Chalk Pastel. 18×24 inches. 2019.
Jessica Parker. Lunch. Oil Pastel. 16×16 inches. 2019.
Lydia Kappelmann. Apples and Brownies. Colored Pencil. 15×15 inches. 2019.
Elizabeth Finck. Bottle Caps and Pills. Colored Pencil. 17×17 inches. 2019.
Ashley Bigos. Spoon Reflection. 22×10 inches. Oil Pastel. 2019.
Jessica Parker. Reflection in the Angel. 14×16 inches. Colored Pencil. 2019.
Madeline Amack. Lunch. Chalk Pastel. 24×18 inches. 2019.
Sveta Wunnenberg. Me and Carter Reflected in a Spoon. Colored Pencil. 18×18 inches. 2019.


The Latest Color Drawing Totality – Fall 2018

Kevin Frazier. Master Copy after George Condo. Oil pastel on paper, 28×22 inches, 2018.

The current crew of Color Drawing (ART_DRAW 2210) at Mizzou is doing some really nice stuff. I’ve incorporated a number of new variations of my projects, including adding in black lights, new constructed forms, and modified instructions for several Prompts and Assignments.

Michael Flinchpaugh’s Tinfoil Self Portrait Project. 24×18 inches, oil pastel on paper, 2018.

A project that I started last semester, the Tinfoil Self Portrait, has returned. This time I chose to let the students work in whatever size they chose, so I got a wide array of aspect ratios and scales.

Clara Choi’s Tinfoil Self Portrait Project. 18×30 inches, oil pastel on paper, 2018.

The Master Copy projects were quite wonderful this year, and students drew from many eras of art history. I have also encouraged students who work in Digital Storytelling, Graphic Design, or Interior Design to use significant artists from those arenas as well.

Shannon Kling. Master Copy after Leroy Neiman. 18×14 inches, oil pastel on paper, 2018.
Clara Choi. Master Copy after Elizabeth Murray. Chalk pastel on paper, 30×14 inches. 2018.
Madison Sturr. Master Copy after Alexander Ross. Oil pastel on cut paper, approximately 18×24 inches. 2018.
Stephanie Craven. Master Copy after Glenn Brown. Oil on paper, 22×30 inches, 2018.
Leah Scott. Master Copy after Vintage Movie Poster. oil on paper, 30×22 inches. 2018.

The works my students create when they look at great works of art and copy them are not mere transcriptions. In undertaking the effort to create a version of a masterwork, the students must ask themselves important questions continuously. These interrogations about composition, color, material density and structure, and a whole slew of other issues, all serve to increase the students’ visual and physical IQ.

My Color Drawing 2 students work primarily with Prompts, which are designed to take them on a journey through questioning and challenging their assumptions. Without showing you the whole track of artworks it would be hard to demonstrate their developmental trajectories, but it has been encouraging to watch. While all of my Fall 2018 Color Drawing 2 students have made some very interesting stuff, Amanda Doyle and Mitch Feyerherm, have made strange and exciting works that have made the most of the personal investigations that the Prompts are meant to encourage.

Mitch Feyerherm. Leaf Collage, Prompt 4. Leaves and adhesive on paper, 10×3 inches. 2018. Below, two other, smaller works from Prompt 4:
Amanda Doyle. Wild Woman. Collage, colored pencil, gouache, and digital drawing/painting. Dimensions variable, 2018. Below are four works by Nicole Pratte for Prompt 4, based on screenshots from videos. The pieces, in colored pencil, ink, graphite, collage on paper and acetate, explore how deformities and morphological differences change our assumptions about emotion, intelligence, and quality of life:

Overall my students have taken some amazing strides this year. I’m pleased that my own drive to meet them and challenge them has continued to be strong. Here’s to many more years!

From Then Til Now

Twenty years ago today I met my future wife for the first time… she had just turned 16 the day before.

Hard to believe from looking at this image that we would end up becoming friends, dating, marrying, and traveling the world on weird adventures…

We had this amazing few years I like to think of as “The Cute Years” – when I was still a beautiful baby. She’s always been a beaut. Look at this:

Undergrad Date Nights…

The night was sultry… SULTRY, I SAY!

SO INNOCENT!

Being six years older than her, I was able to go to both her high school dances AND her college dances… I’m not sure what we were thinking with that garter thing… hmm…

Ah, Chi Omega, the cult sorority that Alison was in back at Northwestern…

We did fun things, like attend fish-eyed art openings…

…and read aloud – A LOT. How many books have we done this way, honey?

Through it all, it was you and me. Twenty years. There’s been a lot of hard stuff, but a whole lot of good. I’m so grateful for you.

xoxoxoxoxo

Of Peacocks and Bovine Interlocutors

About this time last year my wife informed me that I was going to be joining two of my friends for a couple days in the wilds of Missouri for an early new year refreshing session.

Bobby and Billy, two of my surest friends of the last decade, put together a little jaunt to a secluded farm AirBnB location. In spite of my trepidation at forgoing my social media habit, I jumped in the car with them.

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It was a few days of quiet time in the brisk air, solo contemplation, good food, good beer, and serious conversation about the deep issues of life.

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It was life-giving. I’m thankful for these guys, and so many of my other friends. Even though we have families and responsibilities and stresses, there is a core of intentional care there.

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In many ways I’m not a great friend. I’m barely hanging on sometimes. I need to be a halfway decent teacher and dad. I wish I was better at both. I wish I was a better husband. But times like this, when I can be honest and straight with people I trust… they make a huge difference.

I’ve been fortunate to have had times like this with a few solid friends throughout the years, and I’m grateful. I’m thankful.

I look forward to the next time, when the peacocks roost in the trees and the asparagus spits on a midnight grill.

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And when the bull makes a visit, in more ways than one.

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Simon Dinnerstein Talk at the University of Missouri

I have the great pleasure of giving a talk about the work of Simon Dinnerstein and Antonio Lopez Garcia this morning at the University of Missouri. Last night we got to watch the wonderful The Quince Tree Sun, a fantastic film by Victor Erice from 1990. In it we see Antonio Lopez Garcia’s struggle to paint and draw a quince tree over the course of months.

Today, the event continues. My talk deals with attention, meaning, and the associations between Dinnerstein and Antonio Lopez Garcia. If you can’t be at The Lasting World Symposium, I’m linking the text of my talk and my slide show here:

Ballou – Paying Attention to Sinks Text

Ballou – Paying Attention to Sinks Slide

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Dinnerstein looking at a projection of his Fulbright Triptych during a talk this morning at the Symposium.

Dinnerstein and Ballou at the Museum of Art and Archaeology with Dinnerstein’s The Sink, September 2017.

A Decade of Teaching at Mizzou

_MG_3410Me, teaching in 2011. Photo by M. Kannan.

Ten years ago this month, I arrived in Columbia, Missouri to start teaching painting and drawing at the University of Missouri. I remember the experience of arriving in town well. My wife was reading to me from the new Harry Potter book (Deathly Hallows was just released the week prior) and we, being Missouri newbies, inadvertently took a scenic route from Chicagoland to MidMo. Those first months were nerve-wracking. It was a one year Visiting appointment (Eventually it was extended, then extended again). I loved the challenge and pretty soon felt at home, especially once Alison joined me. By 2010 I was able to apply to a Teaching Track position.

DSC02231Triumphant with former grad Ian, 2012.

I really am one of the lucky ones. Unless you’re living the art/teaching life, I don’t know if you can comprehend just how lucky. Yes, I’m a competent teacher. I’m a vigorous and engaged artist. But my art-making is not revolutionary, it is investigatory. I don’t believe in originality, I believe in interrogating meaning and experience by acknowledging the vast array of cross-contextual elements that surround us (histories, cultures, systems of thought, traditions of creativity, etc).

Just as nothing that I make exists on its own, so too my teaching is based on the broad constellations of influences that have coalesced into my particular perspective. My frame of reference is not only my own, it’s a kind of index of everyone and everything that has inflected my understanding.

SONY DSCPosing for one of my former grads, Jake Johnson, way back in 2009. Photo by Jake Johnson.

Ultimately I’m not a huge standout from the other (VERY small number of) MFA graduates who are able to keep up the studio work, exhibitions, and become embedded as an educator. I learned early on that teaching scratched the same itch as painting did for me. I’ve used that. I’ve lived that. If I’m down, feeling blown out and sort of worthless – put me in front of a class of 20 twenty year old undergraduates. I’ll come out supercharged. That’s the power of working with human beings who are in the midst of a transfiguration of personality and purpose. I love teaching.

sloanekinkadeIan and Sloane at the first Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage viewing party…

Consider it: I get to think about art, creativity, and even BEING itself for a job. I get to push paint around, push ideas around, and push minds around (including my own). I get to mentor and be mentored by amazing people. I get to work with creative humans of all ages, backgrounds, worldviews, and experiences. I get to read and write and speak about things that move me. I get to show my work around the country (and sometimes around the world). I get to spend time exploring what it means to make things in the world (and what it means for things to make us who we are, too). I get to share those realms of exploration with others.

I’ve gotten to travel around the world to adopt two of my children.  I’ve been afforded the chance to elevate my standard of living well beyond what it was while growing up. I have the privilege of good insurance and great health care – two things that have made the quality of my post-heart attack life, and the life of my daughter suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta, much better. I’ve become a home owner. A mini van owner. A back yard mower.

enchanter-whatgradclassisWith former grad Jane Jun at the old Shakespeare’s, 2012.

12832461_10106823713056199_4957316273168848908_nWith former grad student Laura at a gallery opening, 2014 or so.

All of these things have come to me through the blessing of employment at Mizzou. It is “an honor and a privilege”* to go into my classroom, greet those faces, and set off on a task of vision and awareness.

So many have challenged me and moved me forward. Bill Hawk, now retired, calling me out in my first talk at Mizzou and asking me to point out what I meant by an abstract assertion I had made. Lampo Leong, telling me to “just teach them” in that first class. Dr. Adrienne Hoard, guiding me in the subtle art of holding a grad student’s feet to the fire. Professor Chris Daniggelis, feverishly baptizing me into the art of mezzotint. Catherine Armbrust and the latex, Jane Jun and identity ghosts, Eric Sweet and the teeth, Maurice and the parking mountain, Shannon and the tree outside the art building, Tina and Midwestern dreams, Norby and graying out, Marcus and awkward dad jokes, Emily and softball excellence, Simon and Caymanian memory… so many more.

So much love, and work, and determination. So many reasons to be grateful.

chrishallapproves-03Joke meme image I created for Chris Hall.

13432296_10107258458921999_331676234204831219_nQuality time with former student Marcus Miers, 2016.

The first round of grad students I worked with still loom large in my mind. Ian, Sloane, Nancy were the first… then Natalie, and then Chris, Jane, and Norby… eventually Colleen and Nikos… Each and every one brought a unique inflection to my experience of the world. I am so much better for having spent time with them.

11960094_10106163680641449_3315752712489631165_nWith Lishan, Simon, and Sumi at an art opening a few years ago. Photo by Bobby.

There are so many stories I could put down: grilling pizzas with Maurice, brewing beer with Norby, taking art trips with everyone, having wonderfully intense conversations in Graduate Theory classes, and hilariously irreverent conversations over beverages at any number of our local establishments. I’ve had many wonderful students from China, and I’ll never forget Peking Duck with Jackie or making won-tons with Tianyuan and our children in the kitchen. I’ll never forget when I got to officiate the wedding of two of my former students. I’ll never forget the response of my students and colleagues to my heart attack, and how they supported me and helped me through it.

Jake, visiting for an evening of food and drink, 2008 or so. Nancy isn’t impressed, 2010.

I know that I can’t really express what all of this has meant to me. If I had to bring it all down to the most important thing, I think I would say it’s time with the students. That’s what secure employment for teachers creates. I get the time to get better at teaching and the students get the value of an educator who is growing alongside them. Continuity – hours and days over the long haul – makes the difference. Those students see me living day to day and I see them living day to day. The ones who get it, who really believe they are real and that others are real, who believe in translating human experience into evocative forms… they are the people that get me out of bed. They’re the ones who inspire me.

20091219_WinterCommencement_0007Standing as a faculty mentor with Shannon at Honors Convocation, 2009.

14907629_10107947068902079_2162397385667730310_nWith grads Guigen, Zach, Amy, Simon, and Nikos at lunch during an art event, 2016. Photo by Waitress.

_MG_3368Working with Emily during a summer drawing session, 2011. Photo by M. Kannan.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded. My biggest motivation is to be effective as a person, educator, and artist. To make an impact and reveal the world to myself and others through the act of teaching and making artworks. As the years go by, it is the response of my students that gives me such deep encouragement.

The lives of my students are glorious confrontations in the best of ways. They are the world brought to my classroom. Black, white, South Korean, Chinese, Brazilian, Caymanian, Russian, Japanese, gay, straight, trans, Muslim, Christian, Wiccan, conservative, liberal, questioning, broken, certain, self-actualized, brilliant, wondrous, and strange. They come in skittish and green, and they leave full of the power they’ve always had. It’s beautiful to see their transitions, and it never gets old.

With former grad and then colleague David Spear. At Marcus Mier’s wedding.

img_6603A portrait of me with Darth Vader by Jane Jun, 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 7 by 5 inches.

img_6602Portrait of me as The Dude from The Big Lebowski by Jake Johnson, 2009. Acrylic on wood panel, 7 by 5 inches.

This post hasn’t even really scratched the surface of what that last ten years have meant to me and what I’ve experienced. I haven’t even mentioned my passion for the Cast Collection or Rocking The First Day with Deborah. I haven’t spoken about how much I love Wakonse. I haven’t talked about the strange projects we’ve had to do, the cobbling together of nominal spaces for our students. I haven’t mentioned the glory of Dr. Melvin Platt’s parliamentary prowess or Ferrie and Brenda holding down all the details like heroes. There have been dozens more faculty and students who have made these years amazing.

I’m so thankful, and every semester I try to be worthy of what I’ve received. Here’s to another decade!

11022556_10105427628949939_1438644933721545290_oA group of my Color Drawing students at work, 2015.

*I’m quoting Professor Corly Blahnik, Emeritus at ISU.
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Inspiration – Simon Tatum

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One of my best students ever was Simon Tatum, a fantastic young man who recently graduated from Mizzou as an undergraduate. He is currently working for the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands on an internship, and his work is on display there now. Simon has really demonstrated his quality as an artist and as a person over the years I’ve known him, and I am confident that he will be a leader in Caribbean art for many years.

Before he left, Simon gifted this incredible study to me – below. It is a work of ink on Mylar (24 by 16 inches) that had been enamored with for a long time, and one that I consistently returned to gaze at as it hung on his studio wall for more than a year.

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In some ways this work is a study, an early experimentation in the ink-on-Mylar technique that Simon explored for a good part of his undergraduate career. In other ways it presaged his current fascinations with Caymanian cemetery houses, the geometry of memorials, and the catalysts of memory that many human beings experience. I really love the piece and am planning to mount it in a light box so that it is back-lit… glorious.

Examples of some recent work (graphite screen printed on newsprint, dimensions variable. Photos by Simon Tatum):

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Simon’s work has inspired me, but he has also given me a deeper connection to one of the most important stories I’ve encountered: Donald Crowhurst and his Teignmouth Electron. The tale of Crowhurst and his voyage, as recounted in the fantastic documentary Deep Water, are items that come up frequently in my classes. A wonderful book about this strange episode is Peter Nichols’s A Voyage For Madmen. Seriously, go read it.

The final resting place of the Teignmouth Electron is Cayman Brac, near where Simon grew up. It turned out that he knew how to find the boat, and so he visited it for me and others here at Mizzou who are interested. Just a couple weeks ago Simon, along with fellow Caribbean artist Blue Curry, visited the boat again to document its ongoing disintegration. Their photos have been posted here.

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A fragment of the Teignmouth Electron, washed away from the decaying wreck after Hurricane Paloma in 2007.

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The current state of the Teignmouth Electron, June 2017. Photo by Simon Tatum.

Thank you, Simon! I can’t wait to see what you do in the future!

 

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.