The Ballou Collection – Chris Hall

Chris Hall – Thrustmasters. Oil on panel, 7×10 inches, 2012.

Chris Hall is a great guy. He’s a solid dude. He’s easy to get along with, to talk about Dune with, to consider the pros and cons of kayfabe with, and to think about art with. Back in 2011 Chris came into the MFA program at Mizzou and quickly stood out. Not only was he a good painter with interesting ideas, he was also willing to let his assumptions go to grow. His thesis work was among the strangest and most unique I’ve had the privilege to see. Check out his ongoing work at his website.

Chris has the unique ability to draw out both mirth and serious, intense thought in those around him. I’ve loved partying with him over the years, and I look forward to more fun in the future.

Above: Chris as Nosferatu and me as Igor in a drawing I made… this is how we party, people. Ballou digital drawing, 2017.

I have two artworks from Chris in my home. The first, Thrustmasters, is at the top of this post. And here is an untitled fridge interior from around the same time – 2012 or 2013, just as Chris was moving into his Thesis work.

Chris Hall- Untitled Fridge Interior (Vampiric Food). Oil on panel, 7×10.5 inches, 2013.

Chris is one of my favorite subjects for illustration (I’ve drawn caricatures of my friends, family, and students for many years). Not to be outdone, Chris had me pose for a number of his paintings early on, and those sessions are some of my favorite moments in academia!

Me posing for Chris… meme-ified.

Chris shaking his groove thang… Ballou digital drawing, 2016.

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The Double Narrative of the Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Barack Obama

Portraits of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the unveiling, February 12, 2018.

 

Kehinde Wiley‘s portrait of Barack Obama is a nice addition to the history of presidential portraits. It contains a wonderful and strange double narrative. He emerges, calm and distinguished, from a wall of bushes: the Bush Era. The Bush, however, still ensconces him. It clings to his feet and begins to shroud the regal chair upon which he sits, just as the context set by George W is never too far away from the Hope and Change Obama partially realized. He is separate and beyond that Bush. But it still forms the space within which his history takes place.

Though he made strides in some human rights issues, in some economic issues, and in some issues of global policy, too much of the damage wrought by Bush and Cheney remained. And all too many Bush era policies lived on in the Obama White House. Cornel West has famously railed on the ways Obama failed to be the change he heralded. Particularly in terms of US war efforts, Obama maintained and expanded the failed, horrible strategies that have kept us stuck for nearly two decades. Sure, Obama got Bin Laden and drew down forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also massively increased drone usage and attacks around the world (both issues that have been mostly ignored by the American people). He continued attacks on whistle-blowers. He continued aid to various military forces around the world known for illegitimate attacks.

We can blame Bush and Cheney for starting it, but we have to admit that Obama made mistakes in dealing with shit they started. And we have to deal with the reality that there are unfortunate continuities from Clinton through Bush, Obama, and into the Trump administration. Yes, he helped end the recession and signed Dodd-Frank. But he also bailed out the banks and auto industry, moves which were not necessarily in the best interests of the 99% of us. Yes, he spearheaded the reform of health care and a nuclear deal with Iran, but both of those – like so many of his accomplishments – have been constantly undermined and/or reversed; the solutions weren’t robust enough.

President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley

The portraits are wonderful, but the President’s is a reminder that his legacy is double. I’m certainly not negative against President Obama. I think he did a decent job with the hand he was dealt. I think he was an inspiring leader and a person who used the government to help many people. Unfortunately, he also maintained a lot of the ways and means of previous administrations. He had to work within structures that often subvert human dignity and fail to lead to lasting change, which is partly why Trump has been able to counter so many of his best efforts.

I hope that we soon have leadership who will take the best desires of a man like Obama and reject the insidious systems operating within this country that keep us from truly liberating “the better angels of our nature.”

 

 

The Ballou Collection – Marszalek, Mize

One of the First and One of the Last – Two pieces currently up in the Ballou Collection.

The two paintings below are cherished parts of our collection. I’ve had the Norbert Marszalek painting for about a decade, dating back to my time living in Chicagoland and having a few conversations with Norbert at the Contemporary Art Workshop.

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Norbert Marszalek – Cup and Saucer, oil on canvas, 8×9 inches. 2003.

At the time this was painted, Norbert was still in the midst of several figure-based series of works featuring interiors and portraits. Over the last several years the cup – in particular the tea cup – has become increasingly important to Marszalek and he has focused on it. The attention he has given to the tea cup has caused his work to move out into sculpture and installation. It’s cool to me to have this early cup in my studio to demonstrate the way that sometimes small touchstones can roll up into mountains of concern in the work. I love it.

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Dylan MizeRemembrance, oil on canvas, 12×10 inches. 2013/2014.

I met Dylan when he was an undergraduate at the University of Central Missouri. During studio visits his interest and passion really stood out. Over the years I’ve admired his tenacity and investigative spirit. He’s also really into chess, and has both played the game well but also made some wonderful, effervescent pastel drawings of the action of chess tournaments. He has an instinct for relationships of form and color and mark that are just exciting to me. I just recently got this piece and framed it up with reclaimed oak. It’s a wonderful splash of color in my studio.

 

2017 Pride

I completed a number of projects in 2017 and started a few more. Setting goals and keeping an eye on the prize during the vicissitudes of daily life can be hard, but I’ve gotten better at it over the years (thanks mostly to my loving partner, Alison). I already mentioned stuff about my exercise routine, and posted about my exhibition of recent work (that opens today!).

Back in May I set some goals for the year while at the Wakonse Conference on College Teaching in Michigan. Here are my written goals:

I’m happy to say that I’ve worked to complete most of these items and even those I’ve not yet finished have been pushed forward. I’m glad, given how agitating 2017 was socially and politically, that at least in terms of family and my work I’ve been stable and focused. The results are things of which I am really proud.

Probably highest on my list is the publication of my essay On Scholarship: Empathic Attention, Holy Resistance. It appeared in SEEN Journal and explores the importance of attention in an environment of political vitriol and “fake news.” I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it – it’s one of the best things I’ve written in years, and it shares space with artists and writers and thinkers I admire. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to have this piece out there.

A shot of the cover of the SEEN Journal and a copy of the first page of my essay. Above is a copy of The New Territory.

I am also super excited to be working on a piece for The New Territory. If you are a Midwesterner, you need to get this publication. I am working on a piece exploring the work of Joey Borovicka and adjacent ideas about interiority, Midwestern space, and solitude. I can’t wait to get it finalized and ready for the editors to sort through. Getting to write about key ideas and the work of others is very important to my identity as an artist and educator. I also just love being involved with publications like The New Territory and SEEN. They are labors of love and works of passion that really do the hard work of shoring up meaning, intellectual effort, and spiritual yearning.

I hope to continue this trend in 2018, as I’ve got the Promotion to finalize!

 

 

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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The Ballou Collection – Borovicka, Gealt, Ballougan

Last year I started a periodic series about artworks that I’ve collected – through purchase, gifting, or exchange – over the years. I’ve been thinking of moving some art around in our home recently, so I gathered up a couple nice pieces that I have gotten – one very recently – and put them together with one of the collaboration pieces I made with Joel T. Dugan.

Here they are – A wonderful Joey Borovicka window painting that I got just this past month, a thick Barry Gealt work of juicy saturation, and that collaboration piece that Joel and I made. I really think they hang well together. A little song at the front door of our home.

Here’s a nice detail of the Borovicka piece, entitled 4 Minus 3 Equals zero. Check out Joey’s wonderful Instagram feed for lots more of this enigmatic, compelling work. Below is a close shot of the Barry Gealt piece Waterfall III. Barry is one of the most important people in my life. He has an influence within me that is almost unparalleled. There are perhaps only 6 other voices that guide me more than his has.

Finally, the collaboration piece with Joel – Pile. Joel and I are in the midst of a collaboration of nearly a half decade at this point. We’ve been recouping recently, digging in for another push. With a number of shows together and a collection of roughly 40 works, our partnership has been a long term joy ride into the space between understanding and complete mystification. It’s been powerfully transformative for me.

So there it is. Another installation of The Ballou Collection. Hopefully I’ll get back around to it before another year has passed. Buy art, people! Fill your spaces with art from people you KNOW and CARE about!

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.

Current Influences

As I prepare for a few up-coming exhibitions I think it’s important to state plainly what has been stuck in my aesthetic craw for a while.

Certainly my experience of working with Joel T. Dugan the last 4 years has been huge. He has definitely been a catalyst for a number of important changes and new foci in my work. But for an even longer time, the following artists have been steadily putting pressure on me. One is dead. A number are around my own age. I’m going to list them in alphabetical order – I encourage you to research them. I’ll link to a decent page on their work, but poke around the web on your own. Really good stuff.

Marcelo Bonevardi – Bonevardi, along with Diebenkorn and Manuel Neri, has been a massive influence on my sense of plasticity, composition, haptic maneuvering, and surface. Do yourself a favor and get the major book on his work here.Sharon Butler – An important artist and writer, Butler has been a wonderful champion of abstraction during her career. She’s also a part of a traveling exhibition that I’ve curated (I’ll post separately about that, but here’s a link to the blurb about its first incarnation at the University of Missouri).

Sharon Butler – Good Morning Drawings. Digital work. Dimensions variable. 2016.

Nicholas Byrne – Byrne’s dynamic surfaces, use of a kind of template system, and expansion beyond the rectilinear format of painting have all been inspirational to me. I particularly love his works on copper. Wonderful stuff. This piece. WOW.

Gianna Commito – Commito’s dense surfaces – taped off, gritty, solid, vibrant – are like jewels. I have had the great privilege of handling her works as she is also in the traveling exhibition I’ve organized, set to open at The University of Missouri at the end of this month. These paintings, while mostly small, do not shrink from the viewer’s eye. They are sharp, palpable, and fierce. I love them.

Gianna Commito – Plas. Casein and marble dust on panel. 2015.

Vincent Fecteau – I have mentioned Fecteau to people for nearly a decade. His work is mysterious, shapely, and finely-fitted, yet organic. It is strange to behold. See it in person if you can.

Magalie Guerin – Guerin is a staple of the Chicago art landscape these days. Her modest-sized works defy their scale, becoming means to mine the distance between observational notation and suggestive shape. I love their interlocking, colliding parts.

Julian Hoeber – Julian Hoeber’s slathered-on paintings are, in all of their scummy, impasto glory, treatises to precision and formal rigor. They GLOW. They are illuminated with some kind of Cherenkov light. Epic and weird. See an example below:

Emil Robinson – A powerhouse operating in Ohio currently, Robinson has been working on a series of works that is at once confusing and inspirational. He is a huge influence on a number of artists, especially in terms of his pastel-based figure studies. See his latest work on his website; a few are below. Ecstatic Spaces 1, 2, and 3. Oil on panel, 41×29, 2017.

For each of these there are a half dozen contemporary artists who are important to me as well (like Brian Guidry, Catherine Kehoe, Sangram Majumdar, Hanneline Røgeberg, and Linnea Spransy. As I continue to live and make art, I find that so many people touch me, transform me, make me what I am.

Keep your eyes open for news of new publications, exhibitions, and work. All are coming SOON.

~

PS: I love being floored by seeing a fresh work by an artist new to me. Here’s something that really caught my eye this past week: Amy Sinbondit‘s Section Break. Red eartheneware, engobe, terra sigillata glaze. 14.5 x 18 x 11.5 inches, 2011.

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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!