Recent Artist’s Talk and Q&A

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

Detail of Head and Hole.

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

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

Detail of Current Events.

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

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

Detail of The Falling.

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

Inspiration – Miranda Grace Ballou

Miranda Grace helping me with my large mural project, 2018.

My first born child is a spitfire eight year old. She’s great at math. She’s dramatic and feels all the things SUPER intensely. She’s a very good swimmer (winning some heats locally) and is the unequivocal leader of her siblings. She loves horseback riding, Transformers, and Narnia. She has always been a passionate creator; she’s burned through reams of paper and thousands of pens, pencils, and markers. She LOVES joining me in the studio. Recently she helped me out with a large mural I’m working on. She’s a pretty amazing kid. Here’s some of her recent work:

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on cardboard, 24×18 inches, 2018.

Miranda has started to get very interested in symmetry and creating katywompus abstractions based on a kind of ‘across the surface’ balance. I really like these. Here are a few more.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 20×23 inches, 2018.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 6×13 inches, 2018.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on panel, 16×20 inches, 2018.

My daughter is also very much into working with fabrics and paper. She creates books – stories of every day events – and illustrates them. She makes games, and cuts out all of the pieces and creates the rules. She has made costumes, crowns, and jewels – all out of paper. Cardboard boxes have become space ships and forts. Recently she created – totally unprompted and with (as far as I can tell) no context – a sort of paper and fabric piece that functions as both a wall hanging and a skirt. Check it out.

The front side is pictured here on the left. The verso is on the right. When I was taking these photos she was annoyed that I wanted to take a picture of the back, but it’s amazing. She’s using staples to hold layers of various fabrics, paper, adhesive stickers and sheets, as well as post-it notes and tissue paper together. When hanging, she says it’s titled The Straightened Skirt. In this form it’s about 50 by 10 inches in size. Here’s Miranda modeling it in skirt mode:

 

Anyway, I think she’s pretty awesome. Each of my kiddos has been inspirational, and I expect they will all eventually have their own spot on my blog. I’m so thankful for these kids and their creativity and powerful presence in my life. They have made my work and teaching so much more rich and strange.

Becoming The Student #10, Ryan Davis

My friend Ryan Davis – metal-head, Jesus-freak, post-punk-boy, husband, and leader – is my next Becoming the Student subject. When he walked into my studio he was carrying the Iron Maiden-themed TROOPER beer, which bode well for the evening. I began the portrait with Ryan giving me a lengthy narrative on his musical back story, his influences and interests. It was an interesting and winding tale, as any story starting with Kenny Rogers and ending with Anthrax must be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARyan With a Twenty Year Old T-Shirt, 18 by 18 inches, acrylic on panel. 2014.

On Loving Heavy Metal

“Part of it is that I never want to feel too tame. Maybe it is about recapturing something, or feeling younger… but metal just makes me feel more ‘up’ – other music doesn’t do that. These days I sense that I’m getting back into metal more because I can’t really relate to what my friends are into. But all music is worship. I can see God in any music. In metal they’re telling you truths about the world – often about what’s wrong – and looking for some sort of hope and don’t know where to look. I feel as if most metal I listen to has a social message to it. Many of the bands I listen to are speaking out on injustice or the rape of the environment. Of course, there are party songs and pure anger songs, but that’s not all of it.”

Ryan is an incredibly vulnerable man to his friends. Our conversation during the two hours I worked on his portrait moved from things that were seemingly frivolous to intensely deep heart issues. I’m thankful that he was willing to go there in so many areas of his life. Most of these things just can’t be shared in a public format, but I feel that my painting was a kind of subjective record of the narrative journey we took. Ryan is a guy of integrity and strong emotion, and it was humbling to witness his openness.

On Living a Life Not Based on Affinity

“Now, as a Christian, I no longer have so many relationships based on affinity any more. I mean, if you look at who God has put into my life – the people who I’m the best friends with – on paper our friendship doesn’t make sense. People could easily think, ‘they’re not into the stuff you’re into, they don’t like the music you like; how can you like them?’ For me the answer is just that they’re awesome people and they love Jesus. That’s it.”

On the Time Modest Mouse Played in the Basement

“So, they played the KCOU festival one year. They were supposed to play outside, but it was raining. For some reason my house was thrown out there, so they came over and played in my basement. There weren’t 200 people in my house, but there were a lot. There were maybe 50 people down there at the time. I’ve seen that band twice and I love them, but back then the singer just wanted to do drugs and fool around… phone booths and whatnot. Yeah.”

On Our Healthy Future

“Maybe we’ll both get into CrossFit and we’ll lose a ton of weight, be totally ripped, and work out so much we puke.”

afterlightTROOPER beer!

Becoming the Student #6: 2nd Corporal, 3rd Missouri Infantry, CSA

Jeremy Grove is a man who loves family and history. Through some interactions with friends a few years ago he ended up witnessing a Civil War reenactment event. In conversation with the participants he found that he wanted to participate as well. Soon thereafter he joined a Confederate reenactment unit. I asked him if he was a secret Rebel, but he had ancestors who fought on both sides in the war. Jeremy had a great, great, great grandfather who marched for the Confederate States of America with General Shelby’s Iron Brigade, while another was among the first Union soldiers to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

IMG_84942nd Corporal, 3rd Missouri Infantry, CSA (Jeremy Grove), Acrylic on paper, 27 by 22 inches. 2014.

Jeremy on Reenacting for the Confederate Army:

“A good thing to come from my participation in reenactments is that we highlight a time when slavery was an issue. The reality is that human trafficking is still an issue; slavery is still an issue. And if, through my portraying a Confederate soldier, I can have conversations and engage with people – and ultimately raise awareness of the reality that human trafficking is perhaps worse now than it has ever been in history – then I feel that it’s a good way to use history to learn from our past and make a change.”

On the History of War:

“Sobering and horrifying. All wars are wars about resources, nothing more.”

As we dialogued through the evening, our topics ranged from specific events during the Civil War to the idea of state sovereignty, from public history to personal history. Jeremy’s discursive narratives on the battles and movements of governments and armies as they impacted Missouri was amazing. Later on we moved into eastern European folklore, film appreciation, the Large Hadron Collider, faith trajectories, China, Japan, and hardcore table-top gaming. We rounded things out sharing our experiences of the adventure of marriage and the glory of parenting.

Each moment of our talk was charged with intensity and meaning; there were so many quotable, memorable moments. Jeremy’s energy, passion, and desire to live with awareness and thoughtfulness is inspirational. He’s a good man. Thanks for sharing so many grand histories, ideas, and laughs with me, sir!

Lamentations Series Continuing On

I’ve been continuing work on the Lamentations 3 series – see the latest work below (and an earlier note here). You can see one of the other paintings in the series here.

You can probably see that I am referencing Arnold Bocklin‘s famous painting Isle of the Dead – which he recreated many times – in this work. The connotations it carries with it seemed like a good basis upon with to embed my own reference and image.

I am also pulling from Nerdrum‘s recurring figure of alienation, seen in his Man in an Abandoned Landscape and Iron Law (center, distance).