The Huffington Post Includes my Work in a “Top 10 Best” List

I was gratified to learn that The Huffington Post included my recent essay on Richard Diebenkorn, written for neotericART, in a “Top 10 Best” listing! The piece, written by Brett Baker of Painters’ Table, cited my work immediately after Raphael Rubinstein’s “Provisional Painting, Part 2.” This was excited to me, as Rubinstein’s original text on provisional painting was a catalyst to my thinking in my piece. Here’s the takeaway quote:

“Artist Matthew Ballou’s piece “Diebenkorn: Provisional Action, Provisional Vision” finds surprising and convincing connections to this kind of provisional approach in Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings” – Brett Baker for The Huffington Post.

Thanks, Mr. Baker! Painters’ Table is awesome! Read my essay at neotericART here!

What I’ve been musing on recently

I’ve been thinking about overtly shifting the direction of my work for a while now – perhaps a year. I don’t know that this shift would be easily discernible from the outside, but it represents a significant change of focus for me. As I look back over the last year of my practice and then cross-reference what I’m seeing there with some of the artists and artworks I’ve been looking at during that time, I can really see some connections forming.

For instance, check out these recent pieces:

The Teachers, Mandala for the Murky History of Beginnings and Endings #1, Portrait of Miranda at Thirteen Months, Two Bells, and The Seedbed #1.

Then compare their compositional formatting with aspects of the works of artists I’m looking at here:

Richard Diebenkorn, Miyoko Ito, Barry Le Va, Nicholas Byrne, David Rabinowitch, Julian Stanczak, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Marcelo Bonevardi, Frank Nitsche, Sharon Butler, and Vincent Fecteau.

It seems to me that my previous forays into more formal explorations – such as with the Locus Series (book here), and the conceptually interconnected Quintessence Series and Dodecahedron Series – are becoming more and more deeply apparent in my main body of work. In some ways I’m finding myself less drawn to the figure as a necessity and more drawn to the composition itself. I’m deeply interested in the perception of formal dynamics and the sense of haptic maneuvering that can take place within two-dimensional forces.

So it is that my recent miniseries, three of which are shown above in progress (9 inches in diameter, collage, gouache, acrylic and graphite on paper), have come about. They call back to previous works, such as this one from 2005, which was part of a side project I did while finishing up grad school (I needed a break from my thesis paintings):

First Bend, Oil on Canvas on Panel, 14 by 23 inches, 2005. Destroyed. Click to enlarge.

Anyway, who knows? We’re all moved and pressed and pushed, often by things we don’t entirely recognize. That’s why painting is so much more like getting lost in the woods than it is like jumping in a car and driving to the store for milk. It’s not meant to be that simple.

If it were that way there would be no discovery, no evocation beyond what we already know… and what good would that be?

At the Cincinnati Art Museum

Alison and Miranda before Diebenkorn’s Interior with View of Building (1962)

Miranda crawling around beneath Corot’s Don Quixote (1868)

Miranda with Robert Henri’s Patience Serious (1915) – looks like Miranda’s got a painted doppelganger.


Historic Diebenkorn exhibition, years in the making, will finally go up in Fort Worth in September 2011!

News here, and here.

Here is the itinerary for the touring exhibition:

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas
September 25, 2011–January 22, 2012
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California
February 26–May 27, 2012
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
June 30–September 23, 2012

Who’s going with me!?

Also, here’s the catalog. I just ordered mine.

Beginning Painters, Spring 2010

I have a pretty good crew of beginning painters this semester at the University of Missouri. I’ve been teaching the course a little differently this year, jumping into making stretchers and stretching canvases, working directly with color from the start, and assigning many, many more preparatory works than I usually do. I’ve been showing them Diebenkorn, Tim Kennedy, Sangram Majumdar, Catherine Murphy, and Uglow. The students seem to be responding.

We’ve been talking a lot about the color and direction of light, focusing intensely on how value shifts over forms and through spaces. I’m enjoying a lot of what they’ve done. Here are a few of the current project (all are oil on canvas, each approximately 14 by 14 inches):

Sarah Burch

Arin Hennessey

Dannah Moore

Jesus Roman

Katie Westhusing

Alyssandra Wilkey

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.

Neoteric Art Writings

I’m a contributor to Neoteric Art, a brainchild of William Dolan and Norbert Marszalek. Good guys, both of ’em. Check out my latest short text about Richard Diebenkorn and my older piece on Cecily Brown and Linda Nochlin at the Des Moines Art Center.

Short Thoughts on Loving Diebenkorn’s Work

Visions of Violence and Pleasure: Cecily Brown and Linda Nochlin at the Des Moines Art Center

I’m looking forward to future writings appearing at Neoteric Art.

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.