Come so close that I might see…

Recently, my friend Aarik (whom I haven’t seen in person in about two years, which is a travesty) made an intriguing post on Twitter. He was musing about the idea of publishing an anthology of reflections regarding an important single line from some song, film, poem, or other source. He suggested calling this journal Hold The Line and I’ve been thinking about the idea every day since I skimmed my eyes over his tweet.

It goes without saying that each one of us could offer many dozens of lines from the treasure trove we carry in our minds. Lord knows I’ve been moved by everything from scriptures to contemporary internet memes. When I glide back over my life, though, it’s clear that some lines are held more closely to my core – to the experiences they influenced – than others.

Lying in bed last night I decided to make an entry in Aarik’s theoretical journal. My Hold The Line for today (for right now, since probably it would be something else in 20 minutes), is from Mazzy Star’s 1993 masterpiece, So Tonight That I Might See.

“Come so close that I might see the crash of light come down on me.”1

There’s something so powerful in the idea that when we come together we approach transcendence: come so close that I might see. It’s a proposition, a hope. If/Then. If this other entity is close enough to my core, then perhaps I may experience a charged glimpse of something beyond me. Then it would also be within me, a kind of multiplicity that blows out me-ness with all-ness.

Even so, my perspective – my sensate awareness – is also central. This is like Annie Dillard’s “tree with the lights in it”2 or Moses’s burning bush; the intimate presence, both terrifying and awesome, brings astonishment. Come so close that I might be more than me. Ego death. Samadhi. A disappearance of masks and pettiness in lieu of some true (if only momentary) unity.

Let there be light – and it crashes.

There is a bit of an out-of-body charge to the order of operations in Hope Sandoval’s mumbled words, in the “gothic hallucination”3 of Roback’s droning guitar tone. From closeness to sight to the mystical crash of light. Closeness catalyzes an outside, transmundane experience. I see the light come down on me in that moment. Sharp, electric, like an accidental brush against a live wire or the vertigo of a hypnic jerk.

I have felt that pulsing disorientation a few times. With Robin, her blond bob, and the small of her back all those years ago. With Miranda, born like a bomb, a modern Minerva bursting fully-formed into new reality. Even last week, suddenly seeing a former student after years and almost bursting into tears over it.

Maybe the crash of light always carries tears along with it.

Cliché, I suppose. But also real experience and astonishment… moments of enlightenment brought on by the presence of another real person.

Album cover for Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See.

1) Mazzy Star. “So Tonight That I Might See.” So Tonight That I Might See, performance by Sandoval, Hope and David Roback, Capitol Records, 1993.

2) Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York, NY: Harper, 1998. Page 35-36.

3) Moreland, Quinn. “Review – Mazzy Star: So Tonight That I Might See.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 14 June 2020, pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/mazzy-star-so-tonight-that-i-might-see/.

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.

The Glorious Structures of the Art Institute of Chicago

A couple weeks ago I had the joy to walk through some of my old haunts in Chicago, the city where I spent many years from 1999 on and where I completed my undergraduate degree (at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago).


The State/Lake L stop, near one of the buildings I lived in back then.

Anytime I get the chance to be in Chicago – even if for only an hour or two – I really like to get into The Art Institute. I had a quick series of missions that day: see the AIC, visit a former student of mine (and get a tattoo from her!), and see my friend Jake, who is recovering from a heart transplant (please click here to support his ongoing, 24/7/365 care). Not much time, but I made the best of it.

As I walked through the museum I was struck again by the beauty of the building itself. Here are just a couple shots of the rafters above the great stairs, the stairs themselves, and the majestic old wood floors of the main galleries… many memories made there.






Man, I love that place. Here I am with one of the lions… I'm very thankful to my wife for making this short day trip possible ❤️

Inspiration – Simon Tatum

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One of my best students ever was Simon Tatum, a fantastic young man who recently graduated from Mizzou as an undergraduate. He is currently working for the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands on an internship, and his work is on display there now. Simon has really demonstrated his quality as an artist and as a person over the years I’ve known him, and I am confident that he will be a leader in Caribbean art for many years.

Before he left, Simon gifted this incredible study to me – below. It is a work of ink on Mylar (24 by 16 inches) that had been enamored with for a long time, and one that I consistently returned to gaze at as it hung on his studio wall for more than a year.

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In some ways this work is a study, an early experimentation in the ink-on-Mylar technique that Simon explored for a good part of his undergraduate career. In other ways it presaged his current fascinations with Caymanian cemetery houses, the geometry of memorials, and the catalysts of memory that many human beings experience. I really love the piece and am planning to mount it in a light box so that it is back-lit… glorious.

Examples of some recent work (graphite screen printed on newsprint, dimensions variable. Photos by Simon Tatum):

Discover and Rediscover-install image 7.1

VAD-install image 2

Simon’s work has inspired me, but he has also given me a deeper connection to one of the most important stories I’ve encountered: Donald Crowhurst and his Teignmouth Electron. The tale of Crowhurst and his voyage, as recounted in the fantastic documentary Deep Water, are items that come up frequently in my classes. A wonderful book about this strange episode is Peter Nichols’s A Voyage For Madmen. Seriously, go read it.

The final resting place of the Teignmouth Electron is Cayman Brac, near where Simon grew up. It turned out that he knew how to find the boat, and so he visited it for me and others here at Mizzou who are interested. Just a couple weeks ago Simon, along with fellow Caribbean artist Blue Curry, visited the boat again to document its ongoing disintegration. Their photos have been posted here.

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A fragment of the Teignmouth Electron, washed away from the decaying wreck after Hurricane Paloma in 2007.

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The current state of the Teignmouth Electron, June 2017. Photo by Simon Tatum.

Thank you, Simon! I can’t wait to see what you do in the future!

 

Inspiration – Eric Sweet

Photo Apr 16, 3 09 28 PMEric blurred in front of the work of a fellow grad, Charlie Thompson.

Eric Sweet – a friend, colleague, and former student (in a few graduate classes) – died Monday, April 6th. It was sudden and strange in ways I can’t really describe. Yet his passing drew out much love and care from the people in his sphere of influence; so much of what remains is truly the definition of bitter-sweet.

Others have spoken much more eloquently than I can about all of this. But I wanted to take a moment here to memorialize Eric as so many of his friends and family have over the recent days. In the hours after he passed I made a few statements, but for the most part have been filled with silence. So here are a few more thoughts.

Photo Apr 16, 3 18 36 PMEric’s visage, pasted above the urinals in the Art Building bathroom…

I keep thinking of his graduate thesis title: Come to Nothing. The fact is that his life was the diametric opposite of that sentiment. He really did make something. He made real impressions (printmaking pun there). Real truths. Real observations. Real impacts. He was the opposite of a taker. He was not an emotional leech. While creating the work for Come to Nothing, Eric gave constantly of himself to encourage other grads and shape the graduate program. He could be forceful in advocating for excellence and understanding, but he did it out of a sense that we all really could be better. He knew that we could all be more thoughtful, more aware. And he helped us do that.

ES_3_print_res

Ideal City (Piazza Della Civilita Italiana), Hand pressed low relief blind embossment, 27” x  32”

Eric and his wife Catherine were the first graduate students I interacted with who really felt like colleagues and authorities from the very first time I met them. I often left meetings with them feeling that they were the ones doing the instruction, not me. This was – and is – a very good thing to experience. I have always felt edified by my time with them, and have loved the way Eric cast such a huge positive shadow over the graduate program at Mizzou. Grace and insightful clarity permeated their discussions. You knew you were getting straight talk from Eric.

Photo Apr 16, 3 18 27 PMA typical note from Eric to his students.

That straight talk continued after his death. In going over graduate review notes (faculty who attend a graduate’s review give feedback and vote on the student’s potential to continue on in the program), we noticed some from Eric. He’d been invited to attend review as one of our current Adjunct Professors, and he had taken the time to interact with the ideas of our current grads. Sharp and precise, Eric pulled no punches. He was a teacher right up to the end.

1935079_966535378259_7573425_nHanging out at Klik’s.

On the day of his Memorial Potluck, I was able to place a tribute to Eric on a large drawing at a local restaurant. If you’d like to see a time lapse of the drawing as I made it, watch below (or click here):

Time Lapse of Chalk Pastel Drawing at Gunter Hans, April 11, 2015

from matthewballou on Vimeo.

1907519_10105539051084089_281031879456274633_nEric at the first Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage movie viewing.

One of the most lasting things Eric gave us was his love for Catherine, which is one of the best love stories I’ve gotten to see up close. Their marriage was a testament to a couple being able to get over themselves in order to become more like their true selves. Their marriage made them more human and more transcendent. What a tremendous gift they pictured together.

~

I’m grateful to have known you, Eric. RIP.

~

Inspiration: Students

I started this blog five years and two days ago, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about it is sharing the work of my students. I never try to over-sell it. Most of my students are not Art majors. Many of them have had very little art-making experience before they take my classes. Yet they always make transformational movements, always end up showing themselves things they never imagined doing. I want to share a few of my Spring 2014 students’ works and words below. They were inspirational to me this semester. All images and words shared with permission.

photo 1Tayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Graphite.

“Everything changed when I walked in this classroom at the beginning of this semester. This class has changed the way I thought of drawing, and even my perspective on life. I found myself more focused and calm when I drew instead of anxious and judged. It helped to bring back this hope and urge to draw that I used to have when I was a little kid and I’m not sure if I can even fully explain what that means to me. What I’ve taken from this class is honestly a little more uncertainty, but I know that’s not a bad thing… I just had thought to myself that I could never be an artist or a musician or a writer. Yet I still draw, still play music, and I still write on that novel I’m almost sure I’ll never finish. I want to go out and appreciate this wonderful gift of life that has been bestowed upon us.” – Tayler Newcomer.
imageTayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 18 by 24 inches, Graphite.
~
2014-05-03 16.00.51Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Master Copy after LeRoy Neiman, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
“I want to see things through others’ eyes and be open to change! In the rest of my life I want to keep trying to be slow to anger and quick to love, and care as Jesus would. I pray my life will be a light for people in one way or another!” – Emily Crane.
2014-05-03 15.55.14Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Self Portrait Off Third Base, from a M, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
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image[1]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Colored Pencil.
“If it were not for a sense of the whole I would not be me when I draw my self portraits. I would not be such a pronounced image within the scene that I draw; it is the universe itself that helps pronounce my image. The drawing then has a sense of the whole as well.” – Blessing Ikoro.
image[2]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Study of Busts of Caesar and Apollo, 24 by 18 inches, Charcoal.
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2014-05-03 16.00.58Amanda Bradley, Art Major. Master Copy after Dutch Master, 24 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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2014-05-03 16.00.38Shayna Painter, Business Administration Major. Master Copy after Kupka, 18 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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“The way you see something and the way you experience it are so different. The visual aspect of anything isn’t more important than what you learned from it or now it made you feel.” – Hunter Whitt, Elementary Education Major.
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These young women were just a few of the outstanding students I had this semester. Here’s hoping they continue on with the art impulse.

Inspiration – Laurie Anderson

Above: Anderson singing with a luminous microphone inside her mouth

“I don’t necessarily think that political art is any better or more worthwhile or more relevant than making a giant blue painting. We need giant blue paintings and they can sometimes be more about freedom than works of art that tell you how to be free. Giant blue paintings can show you.” – Laurie Anderson, at the SVA commencement ceremony, 2012.

Watch her whole speech here. Be sure to watch through to her “pillow recorder” performance at the end – fantastic!

And here’s a (mostly) “giant blue painting” – Ocean Park #129.

 

Inspiration – Trudy Rogers Denham

I’ve worked with Trudy in some capacity for her entire graduate career – sometimes in classes, often just as a contributing committee member. It’s always wonderful to see an artist come into a graduate program and make huge changes while maintaining a core of truthfulness about who they are and what they want. Though I’ve seen Trudy’s work shift dramatically, there’s always been a knowing thread through it all. In the first class she took with me we were able to understand drawing itself as that propulsive linear element that moves within any work – whether it be performance, installation, or more traditional forms. I’m so impressed with Trudy’s work and proud to have been able to witness it.

Here are some installation shots from her thesis exhibition – Residuum – please come see it as soon as you can!

 

Wide view of the first room.

 

Wide view of the second room.

 

Professor Daniggelis engaging with the work.

The poetry of the chairs…

Inspiration – Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner has been a major presence in my life as a painter for many years. His grasp of overt and subtle visual dynamics is astounding, as is his dual ability to modulate fields of colors and negotiate edge quality. In many ways his works prefigure the Abstract Expressionists who were to follow him 40 or 50 years later.  The work below, Nicodemus Visiting Jesus by Night (1899, Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art) is one of his masterworks. You can read more about the image here, and click on it for a larger view.

To me, this work below is the painter’s absolute triumph:

Annunciation (1898, Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Click to expand.