An Overview

Thanks for visiting. My name is Matt Ballou. I teach at the University of Missouri’s School of Visual Studies, where I’ve been since 2007. At this site you can see a range of my visual and written work.

Who I Am

I am an artist, teacher, writer, and dad who lives in Mid Missouri. This blog, which I began in 2009, records my art practice, as well as words and images that I use to reflect on my experiences in this life. I’m trying to learn how to see and dream well.

Please browse the various areas in the menu above for more about me. In particular, my adventures in China and at Ox-bow have been integral to who I have become. Additionally, my heart attack was a watershed event that produced radical changes in my art and life.


I have shown my artwork in exhibitions across the US, from Illinois, Kansas, and Massachusetts to New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Washington. I have developed and curated exhibitions in Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, and Nebraska. My areas of research include:

  • Comparing and contrasting Eastern and Western Mandala forms
  • Exploring and writing about the work of Miyoko Ito, Richard Diebenkorn, and several other artists
  • Investigating how natively digital art practices interact with physical materials
  • Developing pedagogical uses of technology and online learning environments
  • Using CNC routers, laser engravers, and various drawing robots in the development of artworks


My writing has been a key aspect of my practice for over twenty years. Publication highlights include a cover feature on the work of Odd Nerdrum in Image Journal, a profile on painter Joey Borovicka in The New Territory, and an extensive review of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Retrospective for the Chicago-based publication neotericART. In the last few years I completed invited texts for The MU Museum of Art and Archaeology, SEEN Journal, and Oxford University Press (Grove Art). See my Bio and CV for more. Several of my personal favorites are linked here.

Current Art

I have had several areas of art-making going on simultaneously over the last decade or so:

I also participate in several collaborations:

Please see my Portfolio for a broader overview of my art making and projects.

If you’d like to support me, Buy Me A Coffee, or visit my Etsy Shop for inexpensive studies, drawings, and prints (when available).

Ballou – Node Trip (WHENEVERwhen). Permanent marker, highlighter, ink, and acrylic on YUPO. 13×12 inches. 2022.

Collab Update

Late last year I talked about how Geo and I were working back and forth with some artwork/carving/A.I./carving/artwork-type collaborative stuff. The process has continued.

I know, I know. You see the initials A.I. and you’re skeptical. As you should be. I’ve been doing a lot of research on A.I. generated images, and while I think the majority of the A.I. space is trashy, there are a few people doing some amazing exploration. Joey Borovicka over in The Timeout Zone is doing quite interesting “synthography” using A.I. models. Wolfe von Lenkiewicz is also making intensive forays into image-making with precision A.I. models.

I have been interested in using image-generation tools in a limited way. Basically, I’ve been incorporating them into the workflow. This means we start with ideas, images that we’ve made ourselves, or carvings that Geo has made. Then, uploading the images as a baseline source for the A.I. generator to use, we add text prompts to encourage various modifications. In this way we use our own images in the A.I. system and calibrate them using the wording we input. Obviously, since the models have been trained on images borrowed from the wider world, we’re viewing this as a limited experiment, but I think it’s worth it.

Here’s a sequence of explorations that we’ve done with imagery of the acanthus and my own artwork: first, I used some wording from Geo in the Dream by WOMBO A.I. app, then I loosely drew over the generated images. After making a various edits and selecting one of the versions that I’d drawn, I sent a copy to Geo, who used it as a basis for his carving.

Living Carve. Ballou. 10×10 inches. Ink, colored pencil, gouache on paper mounted on panel. 2023. Private collection.

The image above, Living Carve, was built by using words of Geo Weissler in Midjourney, then modified digitally in Procreate on my iPad. I took that result, printed it on a large format Epson printer using Epson Enhanced Matte paper. I then used colored pencils and gouache to develop the image and enhance the richness of color and depth of surface. Below you can see a shot of the piece framed. You can see some of the surface treatment, the sense of the material accumulating to present the image. I like the chiaroscuro and quality of light. There is a subtle feeling of trompe l’oeil to this piece, which is something I’ve only tried to do a few times before. I may try a composition like this once again. If you’d like to inquire about work like this, visit me on Instagram.


I’ve known Michelle for many years now. She’s been a central part of the local art community for all of that time, and a dedicated student of painting as well. Beyond this, Michelle is someone who always has a kind word, and her encouraging, affirming presence is something everyone in our town knows about.

She also used to be my friend Mike, who I drew for this series here. Obviously, I will not try to tell Michelle’s story. It’s not mine to communicate. But I did think it would be appropriate to place a new portrait here in the Becoming the Student group.

Portrait of Michelle R. Seat. Procreate, iPad Pro. 2022.

Since I’m an educator, I’m sure you can imagine that I come into contact with many LGTBQ+ folx. Particularly in the last decade I’ve worked with trans people in a few different contexts, but most often in the graduate program where I teach. Just like anyone else who is human, the trans people I’ve known have exhibited a wide range of personality and affect.

Everyone comes with their own traumas and triumphs, their own unique inflection on life. And the fact is that simply being human is hard. People have to come to an understanding of themselves for themselves, and my primary obligation to those around me is to be kind. While that strategy hasn’t always worked, I think it’s an important guideline. And it’s framed the way I teach and the way I interact with people. It’s not up to me to define anyone else; it’s up to me to be kind and helpful.

DETAIL of Portrait of Michelle R. Seat. Procreate, iPad Pro. 2022.

(That’s central to how I see education. My teaching philosophy includes the concepts of “facilitation, encouragement, and tact.” It’s important for my interactions with people – especially students – to function as opportunities to support and enliven them. I want to aid their ability to understand themselves and help them develop strategies for building creative points of contact. Art – or really any form of communication – is worthless if it doesn’t offer access points for others.)

So, I offer up this new portrait of Michelle in celebration of her humanity and her winsome, joyful presence in our community. I did interview her for this entry in the Becoming the Student series, but I have decided to let that conversation stay just between the two of us. There are as many ways of being human as there are humans experiencing being.

DETAIL of Portrait of Michelle R. Seat. Procreate, iPad Pro. 2022.

…all is transformed, all is sacred,
every room is the center of the world,
it’s still the first night, and the first day,
the world is born when two people kiss,
a drop of light from transparent juices,
the room cracks half-open like a fruit
or explodes in silence like a star,
and the laws chewed away by the rats,
the iron bars of the banks and jails,
the paper bars, the barbed wire,
the rubber stamps, the pricks and goads,
the droning one-note sermon on war (…)

the invisible walls,
the rotten masks that divide one man
from another, one man from himself,
they crumble for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive;

to love is to battle…

From SUNSTONE by Octavio Paz, 1957

A Review of “Pastor’s Kid”

Pastor’s Kid, a film by Benjamin I. Koppin, must be a labor of love. Billed as being based on a true story, the movie does indeed function with a strong sense of authenticity, at least to my eyes. Viewers follow Riley (Courtney Bandeko), a disaffected and conflicted young woman, in the hours and days after being roofied at a bar. Our perspective trails Riley in moments of reflection and realization that attend her dismay, not only at what happened at the bar, but at the experiences she’s had her whole life. In some sense the entire film is comprised of vignettes of those reflective moments, and we pop back and forth between the present moment and key situations from Riley’s past.

Anchoring the past is young Riley, played with grace and unique presence by Marisol Miranda. The filmmakers struck gold with this actor, who mirrors the pensive inner life that Bandeko gives to older Riley. Both act well with their eyes, and the interiority suggested by their performances allows them truly own their scenes. In many ways, the world of the film orbits them. They become a still point in the midst of the tumultuous realms that surround them.

This is a film that lives in the tension between active seeking and accidental finding, between finding yourself lost and being surprised that you’ve been found. Coming as it does in the midst of a potent moment of spiritual deconstruction among younger Americans, the film is situated to strike a particular chord. It could easily have come off as preachy, or too easy, or – indeed, in one of the strongest lines from the movie – as “a cliché.” I think the filmmakers and actors managed take it beyond those kinds of trite, pedantic resolutions.

Without giving anything away, I think Pastor’s Kid is able to highlight the potential for redemption in the midst of what simply can’t be undone in our lives. We do things that can’t be taken back. Things are done to us that we alone can’t repair. Riley understands that she’s lost something of herself in the attack; that loss is disconcerting and painful. But the event is also a catalyst causing her revaluate her relationship with her estranged mother and – maybe – with her equally-estranged faith. Riley is both a protagonist and an antagonist. Will she return to numbing herself or will she allow herself to open up to past experiences and emotions? Whichever route she chooses will hurt.

Healing wounds requires touching them, and that’s the painful part; sometimes running away is the only response that seems valid. We’re all traumatized, and we all live in various states of fight, flight, or freeze. It makes sense, then, when Riley’s mother, the voice of God, and even Riley herself are left asking, “Are you done yet?” Done with anger, done with fear, done with running, done with dissipation; the viewer is left to parse the potential of that question and any answers that might follow.

Pastor’s Kid is a unique movie with intriguing pacing, strong performances, and solid, memorable characters. It feels like a distant cousin to Rian Johnson’s classic neo-noir film, Brick. Though less stylized than that movie, Pastor’s Kid is a film with a similarly confident perspective. To me, it succeeds most strongly in moments of subtlety and ambivalence. It’s a film worth your time.

On a personal note, I’ve known a lot of PKs. I’ve seen their struggles up close. It feels honorable to provide a particular view into their world in a way that feels honest and heartfelt. Kudos to Koppin and the whole writing and production team for that.

For more information, see

All imagery here copyright Ironside Films.

Full disclosure: the featured actor in Pastor’s Kid, Courtney Bandeko, was a model for many of my Drawing classes in the Art Program at The University of Missouri. I’m glad to know she’s gone on to do creative work she loves.

A New Collaboration

I have known my friend Geo ever since we lived next door to each other in Evanston, Illinois in 2006. Though my adventures took me to Missouri and around the world in subsequent years, Geo made an effort to stay in contact. The man traveled to visit some of my shows, even appearing in Columbia, Missouri for an exhibition in 2009.

Geo surprised me back in 2009. We got Thai food and cocktails.

In more recent times we have taken to writing missives via email and text, sharing books and ideas. Geo has been a woodcarver for many years, and his work has been sought out all over the Chicagoland area since the 80s. I’ve appreciated the friendship Geo has given over the years, and see him as a kind of “future self mentor.” Imagine a version of yourself visiting from some alternative future who gives encouragement? That’s kind of what Geo is for me.

Portrait Demo Sketch (of Geo). Chalk pastel on paper, 24×18 inches, 2013. Created at Evanston Art Center where I gave a portrait workshop.

Through our chats and several visits, we have connected as artists and visual thinkers. Every once in a while Geo would send me small carvings and I started wondering what shared art-making might be for us. Eventually, it seemed natural to start formally collaborating on a group of carved paintings, three of which appear below.

Geo began these works by creating carvings based on some of my own WHENEVERwhen or Ensigns For Miyoko Ito series works. He owns several of them (in fact, Geo has purchased many of my paintings over the years) and was able to observe them closely. Inspired to bring some carved aesthetics to bear on those visual themes, Geo crafted some really interesting surfaces. One (the “Wedge Interpretation” piece above) he actually painted most of as well. I added chromatic exploration to each of the relief carvings, seeking to transform both Geo’s carved environment an my own formal structures.

I’m feeling excited – and thankful! – for this fresh collaboration. Here’s to many more shared works with Geo.

Impossible Interiors at William Woods University

I’ve got a group of works on display at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. The show runs through October 6th, and I’ll be giving a talk that evening. For a preview, look below.

This is the third time I’ve shown this body of work, and I’d like to get the chance to show it again. The subject of the work – a “friendly-fire” bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. If you’d like to see more about this situation, check out my writing about it here.

The card for the exhibition.
Back of the card with description of the show.

I’m also pleased to have a small group of my collaborations with Joel T Dugan also on display at the gallery. These Phoneme works are some of my favorites, and there are a number of just finished works included.

A Little Cartography

Many years ago, my Cousin Chris and I were constant companions in the woods around Camden, NY. In particular, we explored the region between our homes. His place was several miles away to the west if you took the old dirt road that emerged onto the highway 50 yards from the house I grew up. We also did a lot of camping and hiking in the woods east of my own home.

Here’s what that area looks like today (well, a few years ago via Google Earth):

I grew up along Route 70 – Wolcott Hill Road – about two miles from the town of Camden. Wolcott Hill Road runs roughly South to North away from Camden, so this view is oriented with East at the top and West at the bottom. You can see the small lake in the lower half of the image; that is a reservoir, and part of Camden’s waterworks system. If you were to walk due West from the South corner of the reservoir, you’d come out on Wolcott Hill Road right next to my childhood home.

From the ages of 12 to 16 or so, I started making maps of our haunts out in this section of land. When I was 19, I decided to make a larger, more refined version of the map, bringing together all of the various places we used to camp and hunt. The result is below.

Watercolor map of area around my home. 24×22 inches. 1996.

There are some obvious mistakes of guesstimation here, most glaringly in the position of Route 85, which we locals know as Skinner Settlement Road. There is also some distortion of the placement of various fields, and a bit of miscalculation of distances, but I’m pretty pleased with my effort since I did not use any proper map as a source.

There are some great memories here.

At Winter’s Night, we camped in -2° weather. In the morning, we were lying in impressions in the hard snow caused by our heat coming through the tent.

At Cowadunga, we cooked venison in beer and used hard, flat cow poop for fuel – hence the name we gave the place.

The Reservoir Cabin Site was a special spot, and we stayed there quite a few times.

One night, at View, we had amazing, super clear skies all night long. It seemed as if we could see forever.

Though we never camped at Lone Tree Hill, we often climbed the massive maple there.

At Earthview we had one of our strangest camping trips ever, when we were accosted by a large number of Woodland Jumping Mice. What seemed like dozens of them came through our area, but the issue was that this was in the wee hours of the morning, so it was very dark, and the rhythm of their jumps through the underbrush sounded like footsteps. Pretty wild.

I’m glad I made documents like this throughout my teenage years. Though most are in a more rough or not so presentable state, they represent my attention to and interest in my surroundings and experiences. I’m glad to have them.

ARTFORUM One-liner, 2002

“Oh, to have the sycophantic word-love of the curatoriate (à la Jeffrey Weiss) and willing accomplices in the art press.”

Matthew Ballou, Evanston, IL

Written in response to Jeffery Weiss’s feature on Robert Ryman’s work from ARTFORUM Volume 41, No. 1. See the cover below. Available online here:

Quarantined With Nicholas Cage

What did you do during the pandemic?

A lot of people picked up a new skills and or hobbies during our collective quarantine. Some people got going with a sourdough starter. Some people began learning a new language. Others just worked on their alcoholism.

What I did was decide to watch as many Nicolas Cage movies as I could.

Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” 2022.

While I didn’t make it through his entire oeuvre, what I did do was see a good mix of older and newer movies, both good and not so good. From that exploration I’ve collected five below that I think demonstrate the recent best of Nicolas Cage. I’ll also rank them from #5 to #1.

Nicholas Cage in “Vampire’s Kiss” 1988.

I’ve got a lot to say about each of these films but I will constrain myself to just a few sentences, a few tasty bits of weirdness, to get you in the door. Why try to convince you? Because I really think that these are high-quality Nicolas Cage movies. You may have a sense that Nicolas Cage is not the greatest actor of his generation and, sure, there are some reasons why one might think that. He is a polarizing figure. Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t say he’s boring. I think that if you look at specific moments in the Oscar-winning actor’s career, you will see that he has moments of pure transcendence.

Given that, I’m always down for a foray into cinematic ridiculousness with him.

5) Pig (2021)

Nicholas Cage as a grimy, crazy, disaffected former-chief who goes all Fight Club in an attempt to recover his stolen truffle-sniffing pig. What more do you need? Best part: When our pig hunter shames the hell out of the hoity-toity world of fine dining.

“Pig” movie poster

4) Mom and Dad (2017)

This genre-bender reverses a lot of what you might expect from where you think it is headed, and that’s good. There are classic one-liners, great Cage rage sequences, and some fun camera work and editing. Best part: Selma Blair (i.e. Mom) in a great match up with Cage in a role that plays off his crazy with some crazy of her own.

“Mom And Dad” movie poster

3) Between Worlds (2018)

Ok, listen. This is one weird movie. It’s got an interesting sci-fi premise and would have been a much worse movie in less confident hands. Cage and veteran Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Borne Identity) anchor the film with seriousness and earnestness, in spite of how ridiculous parts of it are. And parts are really ridiculous. The scene where Cage’s character is being hosed down while dancing is just next level. And then there’s the scene where the character is having sex while READING A BOOK OF POETRY BY NICHOLAS CAGE. Ok? We’re getting meta here. It’s worth the watch just for the water hose thing.

Nicholas Cage and Penelope Mitchell in “Between Worlds”

“Between Worlds” movie poster

2) Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Imagine walking into an abandoned, decrepit Chuck-E-Cheese’s and being attacked by animatronic characters that have been possessed by evil forces. That’s the basic idea here. Ok, now imagine you’re Nicholas Cage AND YOU HAVE NO DIALOGUE AT ALL. No words are spoken by the star and top-billed actor in the movie. None. This movie is mostly just campy fun, but half of the tension it carries is found in waiting for and expecting words to come out of Cage’s mouth. This full-on indie project must have been someone’s labor of love that just happened to get Cage behind it. It’s so odd and off-tone in ways, yet it works. Come for the epic death blows to possessed animatronics, stay for Cage’s wordlessness.

“Willy’s Wonderland” movie poster

1) Mandy (2018)

Mandy is a work of art. Italian-Canadian Director Panos Cosmatos continues in Mandy the qualities that made his epic Beyond the Black Rainbow so strange and powerful. Atmospheric space and light. Intense color. Aural compositions that influence the space and visuals. The use of chiaroscuro to force viewers to complete the dynamics of action and scenic structure. Absolutely one of the best movies I’ve seen a decade, Mandy embraces its heavy-handed narrative and unanswered questions. Yet the emotion that comes through is palpable and so important to how it remains re-watchable. Andrea Riseborough’s subtle and keenly-felt performance is a wonderful foil to the insanity mounting in Cage’s character. If you see only one movie here, see this one.

“Mandy” movie poster

To conclude, I have to say that the movies Nicholas Cage has made in his mid to late 50s are bending toward a quirky and chaotic quality that can’t be easily dismissed. Yes, there are duds, and perhaps Cage himself is a dolt of a dude. But with roles like the ones I’ve listed above, he’s continuing to show himself to be a capable, if odd, actor more often than not.

Seize The Sixth, Again


Eric L. Sweet left us suddenly on April 6, 2015, at age 44. Sweet was a beloved member of the MU Art faculty, having worked at MU since 2012 as an Adjunct Assistant Professor, teaching Printmaking, Drawing and 2-D Design courses. He was an alumnus of the Art program, having earned both his BFA (1997) and MFA (2011) from the University of Missouri. In 2008, he received an MA in Printmaking from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Sweet was an active member of the Southern Graphics Council International and the College Art Association.

The “Running Devil” icon that was embroidered on one of Eric’s shirts.

To celebrate Eric’s life and positive role as an educator, Sweet’s wife, Catherine Armbrust, established The Eric Sweet Exhibition & Speaker Series to continue passing on his gift. I have created a series of work celebrating Eric almost every Seize the Sixth, and this year is no different. I will be donating 100% of the sales of these pieces to the Fund. This program was created because he strongly believed in the importance of community accessibility to art and encouraged meaningful conversations about the state of contemporary art. Funding this annual exhibition and speaker series for the gallery is the perfect way to make contemporary work accessible to the MU and Columbia communities, and to honor this special man who made an impact on so many lives. In fact, the initial funding goal was met in 2021 and the very first iteration of The Eric Sweet Exhibition & Speaker Series took place on December 6, 2021. See the exhibition poster here.

Look over my limited series of CNC relief cuts, posted below. If you’d like one, contact me. You’ll get an icon of Eric’s life and students and community members will get to see art because of the donation I make from the sale. As Eric (and his 4th grade teacher) might say, “You don’t HAVE to, you GET to.”

The Artwork

I’ve made eight artworks for Seize The Sixth this year. There is one group of five CNC relief cuts that feature the classic “running devil” icon that Eric had embroidered on one of his work shirts. Below the devil is featured part of Eric’s axiom, “YOU GET TO.” It’s a proclamation of hopefulness and gratefulness. Here’s a detail of the Running Devil carving if you want to see a close up view.

There are three of these – just the Running Devil without the text.

How to get one?

I can take PayPal, CashApp, and Venmo (click each for a link to my info). If you’re local you can give me cash. The cost $50 each for these. Ones with text are 5.25×5.75 inches and those without text are 4.5×5.5 inches. Each piece is made on a PVC sheet and painted in gold spray paint. Each is signed and numbered. The ones with text are numbered 1 through 5 and the ones without text are numbered 1 through 3. First come, first serve. Feel free to email me if you have any questions – balloum (at) missouri (dot) edu.

Why no Sweet Audio this year?

Most of the time I’ve been able to put together a compilation of classic Sweet audio clips. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any more usable clips this year. There’s a chance I still have some in the depths of my files, but I just couldn’t locate anything for this year. In lieu of that, please head over to SoundCloud and check out the previous years’ offerings!

Ballou SweetTalk collections for 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Now, go Seize the Sixth! Remember… you don’t HAVE to, you GET to!

Come and See

This past week I watched the most significant film I’ve seen in the last few years: Come and See, a 1985 Soviet-era anti-war film. Taking place in what is now Belarus in 1943, the film traces a few epic, devastating days in the life of a teenager who “joins” the local Soviet resistance to German incursions.

I will not spoil the power of this film by giving too much away. I will say that this film, at its core, shows the radical transformation of a smiling, whimsical, 13 or 14 year old boy into a gray, hollow wreck in a matter of hours. His heart and mind are smashed against the brutality around him. He sees not only death up close but also the horrendous inhumanity that war brings forth in our species. Scenes of almost fairy-tale light and mood give way to instances of the most egregious forms of torture, humiliation, and murder. We witness these acts conducted by carousing, laughing, crazed soldiers, while inhabiting the view of our protagonist, Florya.

Aleksey Krachenko as Florya.

Aleksey Kravchenko’s performance as Florya is beyond incredible. To think he was able to inhabit this character at the age of 14 is amazing, and I can’t imagine that he escaped the production without some trauma. Many sources claim live ammo was used, and he was certainly very close to real incendiary devices, raging fires, and extremely gory depictions of dead people. His performance was beyond things such as honors or awards. Simply legendary.

For a significant portion of the film Florya is thrown together with Glasha, a strange, beautiful young woman who sometimes sees and says what Florya can’t. There are several intense scenes between the two characters. One, where they dance in raindrops after narrowly escaping death is contrasted with a later sequence where they struggle neck-deep in a bog, frantic and animalistic.

Olga Mironova as Glasha.

The film is built using historical accounts as its backbone, but there are threads of magic realism here as well. Certain moments strike me as direct references to iconic moments in film classics, such as the sliced eyeball in Un Chien Andalou (1929) or the screaming nurse in Battleship Potemkin (1925). But the piece is a work entirely singular and unique. There are moments unlike any I’ve seen, and from my cursory exploration online I can see that many of the most important cinematographers and directors of photography in film cite it as an influence.

The cow scene from Come and See is brutal.

The thing about watching Come and See right now – and why it’s essential viewing – is that it highlights the Russian war against Ukraine in stark ways. One reason this film got past the Soviet censorship machine was that it demonstrated the pure barbarity of the German invasion. But it is easy to understand that the filmmaker, Elem Klimov, was making a broader point about what war – both in terms of materiel and the political machinations behind it – does to people. There is an cold, bloody irony in the fact that a Russian film from the late Cold War era shows the illegitimacy of Russian warmongering today. There are young men and women, just like Florya and Glasha, lying dead on the streets and countryside of Ukraine right now, and their deaths are every bit as criminal as those depicted in Come and See.

Florya, held up to pose for a picture with German soldiers.

So, yes. Come and see, and then reject evil of war.

Main website for the film at Criterion Collection.

More info about the film on Wikipedia.