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.



Marcus Miers: Halation at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center

My friend and former student Marcus Miers is returning to Columbia, Missouri to have a solo exhibition at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center.


Marcus, installing Come To Nothing (The Minimalists Ascension) at Imago.

This exhibition is, in some ways, a second iteration of Marcus’s MFA thesis show that took place this past April at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In addition to several of his thesis works, Marcus will be creating site-specific pieces that play off the unique interior quirks of the Imago gallery space. Also on display are two drawings from Marcus’s undergraduate time at Mizzou. These drawings show the beginning of his interest in the phenomenology of color and the relationship between color, space, and anxious or awkward forms.

imageOne of Miers’s recent works (left) alongside an older drawing.


Another one of Marcus’s undergraduate works.

The two undergraduate drawings will be for sale to support The Eric Sweet Memorial Scholarship. If you want to know more about these two pieces, visit Imago or shoot me an email.

imageAn evocative basket-like sculpture entitled A Soft Tongue Breaks the Bone.


Marcus Miers – Halation, a catalog of recent work, is also displayed in the gallery.

imageKeep Them Close on view at Imago.


Marcus beginning to install a site-specific woven piece in the strange brick niche at Imago.

I hope you’ll come see this exhibition if you’re in the area. Marcus will give a talk on June 2nd at 7pm. I’ll have the privilege to introduce him before he speaks. Always strange, sometimes awkward, and often mystifying, experiencing Marcus’s work is just like meeting him for the first time. Ultimately, both are rich and rewarding, so be there and start the journey.

An Awesome New Diebenkorn Book


I just recently picked up a fantastic new Diebenkorn book, and it turns out to be very impressive. No, I’m not talking about the new Berkeley Years catalog (though I did buy that a few weeks ago and am enjoying it). This is a volume out of a small California publisher called Kelly’s Cove Press.

The book, Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper contains 88 full color images and a few black and white shots of Diebenkorn’s studios. There are a few points that make this paperback book exceptional. First, it contains dozens of works that have never before been published. This isn’t because they were lacking in quality; many of the pieces shown here really display Diebenkorn’s quintessential processes very well. Secondly, the book shows abstractions on paper from all of the major locations where he worked throughout his life: Sausalito, Albuquerque, Urbana, Berkeley, Ocean Park and Healdsburg.


The Healdsburg works contained in this book make it indispensable for aficionados of Diebenkorn’s work. I’ve followed every Diebenkorn publication, traveled to see his work in many states, and searched widely to find examples of his work. There simply is no other publication that contains as many Healdsburg-era works that I know of.

The book lacks any scholarly essays, which is a virtue. The only words are short quotes from the artist interspersed among the images and a short biography at the end. This gives us nearly 125 pages of beautiful artworks, printed nicely in an 8 by 6 inch format. I’ll definitely be keeping this book close to me for informal browsing. But don’t let the small size fool you – the overall feel and color quality is excellent.


Authorized by the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, the book was produced in support of what should be a fantastic traveling exhibition titled The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper 1949-1992. The exhibition starts at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery (Kentfield, CA – 9/28/13-11/21/13) and then moves on to San Jose State University (4/15/14-5/17/14), American University (Washington DC – 11/8/14-12/14/14), Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (6/6/15-8/23/15), and ends at The University of Montana (Missoula, MT – 9/24/15-12/12/15).


This book is well worth the mere $20 it costs to pick it up. If you’re into Diebenkorn, it’s essential. If you love Abstract Expressionism, works on paper, gestural painting, collage, West Coast art, or the California art traditions, you’ll love this book. Click here to buy it.


I’ve had the chance to write about Diebenkorn’s work a few times. My most recent essay about the artist is Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park: Provisional Action, Provisional Vision, and is available to read here.

Visiting Ocean Park

Recently I visited Fort Worth to experience the retrospective of Richard Diebenkorn‘s Ocean Park paintings. I have spent the last two weeks trying to process what I saw and what I think about what I saw. I’ve loved Diebenkorn’s work since my first encounter with it. I had to wait nearly 15 years to get the chance to really see the work in context. I’m in the midst of writing my reflections; they’ll appear over at Neoteric Art sometime in the next month or so. For now, check out some pictures of me and Marcus taking in the majesty of Ocean Park.

Marcus sketching from Ocean Park #30.

Marcus scrutinzing Ocean Park #135 – that’s the corner of Ocean Park #93 above his pencil.

Me taking in the glory of Ocean Park #40 from across the gallery.

Here I am considering Ocean Park #79.

And jump here and here to see some pages from my notebook written/scribbled during my time in the exhibition.

If you can’t make it to the venues the show will travel to over the next year, be sure to see this nice photo essay from the current iteration of the show.

Martha Macleish and the Shadows

I took a group of my students (from the University of Missouri at Columbia) over to Kansas City to see a bit of art this past weekend. The main attraction was the Martha Macleish show at Longview Community College. One of the things I found so interesting about her work is the fact that the shadows they cast – being illuminated by the syncopated lamps of a gallery lighting system – are at least as physically striking and necessary to the experience of the art as the objects themselves are. These shadows seem to extend each work in that they transfer the structure and form of the piece into space and onto the surrounding walls and floor. While this seems obvious – it’s what all shadows do – in this case it’s much more significant. This is because the laminated, layered construction of the work is mirrored in the stratified step gradients of the multi-vectored shadows and the negotiated, sometimes grungy, sometimes glossy finish of the materials is echoed in the distended, bending atmospherics created as light falls over their spaces and shapes. The effect is mesmerizing and stimulating, leading viewers to shift their perspective again and again, bobbing and weaving around each piece to see the secrets they hold in their multi-faceted alignments and angles. The work is very much worth seeing if you get the chance. Martha granted me permission to post some images of the shadows her work created at the Longview show. Click on each to enjoy them larger.

Collograph Prints

I’m beginning a series of collographic prints based on the angles of the pentagonal sides of dodecahedrons. Here are images from the first few.

All are in a range from 6 to 12 inches in diameter. I’m conceiving of them as tondos or ovoids, but haven’t decided on the orientations or how I’ll use light with them, since it’s so important to how they’re seen.

None of these prints have pigment of any kind on them.

Click on each image for a larger view.

Dodecahedron Bronze, Part 5

BallouPour02This past week I was able to participate in the actual pouring of the bronze for my sculpture. Above, the small furnace containing the crucible for the small amount of bronze needed for my piece.










The images above show the pour in process – it really was unbelievably hot.




Love that glow!




This image shows the beginning of the breakout process…




Starting to show through…




An inspection… The process is nearly complete. After all of the casting material is removed, we’ll sandblast the bronze, then polish to achieve a final look. We’ll also have to do some welding, in order to connect parts that were cast separately. My thanks go out again to Chris Morrey, who has helped out for the entire process, and to Jim Calvin, who stepped in as an experienced hand to actually conduct the pour.

Diebenkorn in 2010

Diebenkorn Ocean Park #31

A traveling survey exhibition of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series is slated to begin in 2010. Read more about it HERE, and see Tyler Green’s posting about the show HERE. Personally, I can’t wait.

Related: Some Thoughts on Loving Diebenkorn’s Work.

“My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles.” – Richard Diebenkorn

UPDATE: I know this post gets quite a few hits and that means that people are seeking information about the Diebenkorn show. As far as I know that show has been pushed back indefinitely. You can see more info about the postponement here.

Notes on the Quintessence Series

In 1968 John Coplans, a British writer and artist best known for his photographic series of his own naked, aging body, wrote a seminal text for the trend-setting exhibition Serial Imagery. In his essay Coplans stated that serial imagery “is identified by a particular inter-relationship, rigorously consistent, of structure and syntax… a single indivisible process that links the internal structure of a work to that of other works within a differentiated whole.” Though I am very decidedly a representational painter concerned most primarily with the symbolic presentation of relational objects and human bodies, over the years I have found myself engaging in this sort of tightly defined, non-pictorial, serial procedure as Coplans defined it.

Key to my experience of the ideas present in Coplan’s text and the Serial Imagery show was the inclusion of Josef Albers’ Structural Constellation series and a number of Frank Stella’s Eccentric Shaped Canvas series. These works in particular (in tandem with my deep appreciation for Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series) inspired the direction of my periodic forays into serial artworks. In 2003 I created a body of work – and published a book containing them – entitled One Hundred Permutations. In this series I used a Minolta digital copier, the copiers manual, and my own instinctive, jarring movements of the manuals cover over the scanning element as it moved below. The 100 inter-related images were then transferred to screen prints and printed in editions of four. Some also found life through being projected onto canvases and recreated large scale in acrylic paint and permanent marker.

One Hundred Permutations originated through my musing on the shape and potential of a simple office copier. The Quintessence Series began with an ancient geometric form: the dodecahedron. I have been including dodecahedrons in my representational work for a number of years. Made from twelve pentagons, the dodecahedron was thought by Plato to be the physical shape of the universe and was the fifth – the quintessential – of his Five Solids. This Solid carries with it a number of meanings, not the least of which is the notion of a stage or arena where the machinations of reality take place.

The Quintessence Series, though it arose through a constrained aim and method similar to the One Hundred Permutations set, retained the individual actions of my hand and maintained certain aesthetic choices for me within the process that the previous series denied. Three woodblocks depicting various dodecahedron-inspired forms (some with a kind of naturalistic spatial illusion, others with a flat, more diagrammatic format) provide the basis for the works. Every individual work of the series takes the internal shapes and angles of the dodecahedrons created by the woodblocks as an abstract schematic starting point. Layering begins the real process. Each piece is the result of layered printings interspersed with monotypes and drawn or painted elements. The alternating monotyped and handworked elements are reactions to the suggestions made by the underlying states.

Part of what I enjoy about these works is the way they are pushing around my sensibility for creating flat, shallow, and traditionally plastic space. In all of my work, the sense of touch is important. I’m always playing with notions of bas-relief, of the micro vertigo of very limited suggestions of in-the-round depiction. The Quintessence works, in person, are charged with the tension between intentionally flat formalism and a structural depth. Some of this is caused by the suggestions of three-dimensional space that are inherited through the working layers from the initial woodblocks, partly counteracted by flattening subsequent working, partly enhanced by transparencies or angular effects which suggest space. There are areas of embossing, other areas of compacted material, and still others almost devoid of density at all. I find my mind constantly working over them, trying my eyes over certain areas, speeding across others. For me, the activity of making and looking at them is similar to attempting to mentally manipulate a Rubik’s Cube. There is a suggestion of stasis and implied movement there, a kind of holding of one state as given while actively conceptualizing a potential or future state. In this way the pieces seem very motile to me, shifting and changing with each viewing. I like them.

Ultimately, I always return to the figure. Does this mean that my more abstract, schematic, serial work is somehow less important? I do not think so, primarily because my very notion of composition itself is based on the same bedrock that inspired the modernists and mid-century artists who challenged representational depiction with a focus on idea, methods, and surface. Frank Stella himself testified to this reality in his Working Space lectures. While those artists cast off the themes and practices of the past, they never really abandoned the principles of visual dynamics that have informed the human understanding of art for thousands and thousands of years. When I look at my 100 Permutations Series or this current Quintessence Series, I see the same forces and dynamics that I use in my representational works. Here then is the value of my occasional non-pictoral work: to investigate the potential of composition apart from symbolic themes, to remove the coding and baggage of the human form and its presentation from primary consideration for a time. I will always return to them, my objects and bodies and symbols and narratives; but my return will be informed by a constructive visual logic that helps me understand and order what I want to see in new and – hopefully – better ways. So these serial series are not mere sidelines, but necessities, part and parcel of my creative life.