New Books

I’m always on the look out for new books to add to my collection. As an artist and educator, I know there is something wonderful about the physical feel of a book, the way the pages smell, and the beauty of a really high quality reproduction. Recently I’ve added the Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonne, a wonderful investigation of Hilma af Klint, and some other texts. A few of the new books are listed below.

Riva Lehrer – Circle Stories

Riva Lehrer is a profoundly important Chicago-based artist who has worked on disability and identity for her entire career. Circle Stories, put out by Gescheidle in 2004, is a wonderful way to introduce her work to my students and to commemorate the power and presence of her work. The portrait of Rebecca Maskos (above) is particularly special to me, as one of my daughters has osteogenesis imperfecta.

I appreciate the leanness of the book. The statements are direct and clear. The images are evocative and give an indication of the passionate work and depth of feeling that Lehrer brings to her painting.

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Chester Arnold – Evidence

I love Kelly’s Cove Press, a small publisher focused on California and Bay Area artists. Their Squeak Carnwath and Diebenkorn books are, to me, essential viewing for painters. I REALLY hope they plan to publish something on the drawings of Manuel Neri or the wonderful paintings of Kim Frohsin sometime soon.

In this book, the work of Chester Arnold is featured. There is a wonderful play between smaller works and larger, more realized pieces in the design flow of the book. Covering a number of decades, this is an ideal introduction to Arnold’s work for those of us who aren’t as familiar with it. Frankly, I was blown away when I received the book. Arnold’s handling of narrative structure and symbolic force is rare. So much of contemporary representational painting pays lip service to story and metaphor without the depth necessary to deliver an image of lasting power. Chester Arnold really hits home with these paintings, and he’s been doing it for decades.

Arnold’s manner of painterly facture, compositional array, and use of symbolic objects and associations strongly reminds me of the great Maine-based artist Robert Barnes, as well as the frenetic interiors of Gideon Bok (also working out of Maine). What an interesting show these three would make together.

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Emil Ferris – My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Ms. Ferris is a force of nature, and her first graphic novel is set to become legendary.

Every single page is a wonder to behold. The story moves with a familiar strangeness, recalling the moodiness of fellow Chicagoan Chris Ware’s work. It’s also an ode to the Pulp Era and Hammer Horror films. The artwork feels so close to the artist’s hand – the line quality and the sense of notebook paper (complete with “holes” for a 3-ring binder) are astounding. Ferris’s use of ballpoint pen exists here as both a limitation and an extravagant, magical tool.

I also really love how Ferris constantly brings art history into her work as a real player in the story. She does this particularly with art that’s readily available to be seen in Chicago. The city, its buildings, its people, and its art are all palpably present.

My suggestion would be to listen to the fantastic profile conducted by NPR here. I think you’ll find yourself as compelled as I was, and you won’t regret picking up this phenomenal book.

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A Couple Early 2017 Highlights

This Friday, a show of my collaborative works created with the great Joel T. Dugan goes up in Brooklyn, at es ef eff gallery. Head over to 893 Bergen Street at 7pm this Friday, February 17.


Above: a work from the exhibition, “Crest” – Acrylic, oil, pastel, colored pencil, and graphite with woodblock printing on paper mounted on panel. 11 by 11 inches, 2016-2017.

I’m also pleased to share that the Manifest Gallery painting anthology I was selected for has finally been published. It’s a beautiful volume (buy it here).



Above: one of my personal favorite paintings, beautifully reproduced. The INPA6 book features some amazing work by a lot of great artists, as well as friends and colleagues… like Nathan Sullivan and Melanie Johnson:


Above: detail of a Nathan Sullivan work from the book. Below: Melanie Johnson’s included work.


Pretty cool stuff! I’m thankful! There are a number of additional events happening this year that I will share soon – exciting times!

Stations of the Cross Project

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

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

Here are 6 of the 14 images, in progress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming the Student #29: Aarik Emerging

SMALLbecomingstudent-aarikAarik Emerging. Oil on canvas on panel, 13 by 84 inches. 2014-2016. Click the image above for a large version.

My friend Aarik Danielsen is a writer, a preacher, a father, a reader, a thinker, a worker, a lover of his wife and of his life and of the small joys that can pass between people who strive to connect. He’s a willing participant in art and music and making of all kinds. He wants to tell the truth about time and meaning and God. He wants to be thoughtful and honest in all that he does. He is a gentle, genuine soul.

aarik-lipdetailAarik Emerging, detail. Click for large view.

Two years ago I began a project to bring Aarik into my Becoming the Student project. He was willing to go along with my strange request to turn off all the lights in my studio and press my ancient flatbed scanner against his head… for 30 minutes. These scans became the basis for the painting that you see here.

Above: A shot of Aarik from the studio when I was making the scans…

aarik-plaiddetailAarik Emerging, detail. Click for large view.

aarik-detailhairAarik Emerging, detail. Click for large view.

Usually I have an interview to go along with these posts. The thing is that it seems to me that an interview – short, minor, without range – would minimize who Aarik tries to be. This observation isn’t meant to degrade my other Becoming the Student posts. I know they are limited. But I guess with Aarik’s what I wanted to do was focus on his emergence as a father. This painting is a celebration of his transformation – a chosen transformation – into a father. All that being a dad entails is strange and hard. None of us who are dads really know how to do it. And we all deal with issues we never thought we’d have to. So this image of a man appearing out of thick darkness, his characteristics manifesting in tenuous and tenebrist ways, is symbolic of every father’s attempt to become what he believes he ought. The multiplicity of it; each situation bringing about change and instantaneous adaptations… It’s where I find myself and where I imagine Aarik finds himself. It’s a holy discombobulation, fatherhood. One in which we fail moment by moment. By grace we try again.

Thank you for doing that, Aarik – trying and trying again. By grace.

Becoming the Student #27: STAY GOLD (Greta Myers)

More than two years ago, as Greta Myers (website, Instagram) was finishing her MFA at the University of Missouri, I decided to include her in my Becoming the Student series. I’ve included a number of my grads before, but always because I felt some strong kinship with what they were making. With Greta it was a little different.

Greta is a strange, compelling person, and she has a bearing of nonchalant opposition. She’s got a strong personality – exhibiting many unique facets and diverse motivations – that’s so different from mine. In spite of this I think we were able to have an understanding while she was in grad school. As a part of her graduate thesis committee, I was always evaluating the work she made and trying to engage with it critically and as an advocate for it. As an artist and teacher, I’m consistently interested by work that throws me off balance or forces me to think outside of my categories. Greta always did this. I was forever being turned off by some aspect of the work, yet invariably interested in her approach and attitude.

Anyway, I began work on a portrait of her in April of 2014. I worked on the piece infrequently, eventually thinking it was done in August of 2015. Around this time I began to be seriously involved in a non-representational body of work and so left off with all of my in-the-works Becoming the Student pieces. A month ago I decided to get back to Greta’s piece in earnest and, after painting the entire piece over again, it’s finally complete… though it no longer accurately represents Greta’s arms and hands; she’s added a few more tattoos in the interim. Click below to see it large – the file is 9.25 by 30 inches.

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STAY GOLD (Greta Myers), oil on canvas on panel, 13 by 42 inches, 2014-2016.

 And now, here are a few of the thoughts Greta had when I interviewed her:

On Grad School

“It’s been the hardest three years for me in a while – in terms of stress level it’s like getting divorced or having a parent die – but it was good. I feel like I made the program enough of my own and make it work for me. I did it the only way I knew how. I definitely don’t think it was a mistake. If I had quit after undergrad I would probably just be sitting in some stupid busy work job and have never learned the work that it takes the be an active, practicing artist.”

On Being an Artist

“If you’re really an artist, I think you have to be an artist. You don’t have the choice to not be one, and those people who don’t follow that path become miserable and they just don’t function to their full potential.”

On Leaving the Academic Setting

“I’m a little worried about getting along with others. Outside of academic art, life is very different; it’s a completely different world. And I’ve been in school for the last seven years. I’m a little worried about getting along with others, like, just communicating. I mean, you go into a group setting with people who are artists or aren’t in academia and it’s like, what do you talk about? So just getting back into real life is going to be an adjustment. Learning how to build a community – not family, not friends – who get what you’re doing and who share the same passion, that’s important. You have to build it. It doesn’t just happen.

(Interview Date: April 30, 2014)

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Detail of STAY GOLD (Greta Myers), oil on canvas on panel, 13 by 42 inches, 2014-2016.

Continuing Direction of New Work

I have been working on a series of abstractions off and on for nearly a year. Here’s where they were last October. Here’s where they were more recently in my last exhibition, WHENEVER/WHEN, two months ago.

Over the last week or so I’ve taken another step, completing two works (one is below) and starting a number of smaller studies.

ballou-interferometryInterferometry. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, window marker on panel, 25 by 25 inches, 2016. Collection of Bobby and Laura Schembre.

The new smaller studies are attempts to integrate my digital drawings with my physical hand. After printing the works out at roughly 10 by 10 inches (on an Epson 9900 printer), I worked back into them using high quality acrylic inks and some acrylic paint. See a first pass of works below.

KIC Document 1-2smallUntitled Study (Meaningful Shape), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 10 by 10 inches, 2016.

Untitled-1smallUntitled Study (AU), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 10 by 10 inches, 2016.

KIC Document 1-1smallUntitled Study (NV), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

Untitled-1aasmallUntitled Study (Zig), Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted on panel, roughly 9 by 10 inches, 2016.

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While I have worked on a couple representational images since my heart attack in February, I haven’t really felt the impulse to make those works. It’s strange, since that was my aim for 20 years. Not sure what it all means, though I do have an exhibition of representational works (which were completed in 2015, for the most part), so seeing those on display may get me going in that direction again. Who knows.

 

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.

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.

Current Abstractions

Over the last 6 months I’ve been moving back into some more serious abstract paintings. Since beginning my education, these periods of return to non-representational, non-observational work have been important to me. Usually, this work is a release from more intensive perceptual-process paintings. Often it doesn’t resolve into a clear body of work, yet once every 3 or 4 years it does.

Much of the new abstraction is directly related to three distinct events that have been taking place in my studio. First, I’ve been collaborating with Joel T Dugan on a series of works that, while mostly resolving into representation and pictorial symbolism, often begin with evocative surface and color explorations. Secondly, I’ve found myself contemplating the kinds of decisions my daughters make when they work in my studio alongside me. They have none of the philosophy or theory behind making art, and so they offer a kind of pure aesthetic and material reactivity that I find refreshing and exciting. Lastly, I have been obsessed with a print made for a Penguin edition of the book The Cloud of Unknowing. The print was apparently made by artist Diana Bloomfield around 1961. Ms Bloomfield, who died in 2010, was a very successful printmaker who worked on many imprints of the Penguin publishing house.COUAbove, left to right: the 1961 edition, and a late 70’s edition, both featuring Bloomfield’s medieval-inspired cloud.

Such an enduring image.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this image and the ideas in The Cloud of Unknowing, but those are for another time. Right now, here are a number of the recent abstractions.

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Night Sky Sliver. Oil, acrylic and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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Pink Wedge. Oil, acrylic, digital print and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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Locking Diagonal. Oil, acrylic, collage and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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Crossover. Oil, acrylic and adhesive tape on canvas, 12 by 12 inches, 2015.

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The Unfold. Oil on panel, 24 by 24 inches, 2015.

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Bent Icon. Oil on panel, 24 by 24 inches, 2016.

I’ve certainly been influenced in these by my ongoing love of the work of Marcelo Bonevardi and Richard Diebenkorn, but I think that watching Christian Ramirez’s recent work (mostly via Instagram) has been instrumental as well. Most important has been working up close on Dugan’s effervescent surfaces and trying to wrestle with them.

I’ve got a few more of these in the works – I’ll share them as they manifest.

 

EVOKE at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center

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.

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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.

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Detail of a work by Sumire Taniai.

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Detail of a painting by Kelsey Westhoff.

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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.