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/.

Restraint & Limitation Returns

Finally, after some serious delays because of COVID, the Chicagoland iteration of my curatorial effort Restraint & Limitation is taking place at the Riverside Arts Center.

The exhibition features the work of Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Magalie Guérin. Click above to read more about the show and its themes. To see other included artists, look below:

Sarah Arriagada

Dugallou Collaboration

Michael Hopkins

Erin King

Elizabeth Powell

Elise Rugolo

Sumire Skye Taniai

Simon Tatum

Jennifer Wiggs

I’m very proud of this show and thankful in particular to Anne Harris for helping me to bring it to fruition.

Featured image above: Detail of Wiggle Room by Elise Rugolo.

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!

The Ballou Collection – Chris Hall

Chris Hall – Thrustmasters. Oil on panel, 7×10 inches, 2012.

Chris Hall is a great guy. He’s a solid dude. He’s easy to get along with, to talk about Dune with, to consider the pros and cons of kayfabe with, and to think about art with. Back in 2011 Chris came into the MFA program at Mizzou and quickly stood out. Not only was he a good painter with interesting ideas, he was also willing to let his assumptions go to grow. His thesis work was among the strangest and most unique I’ve had the privilege to see. Check out his ongoing work at his website.

Chris has the unique ability to draw out both mirth and serious, intense thought in those around him. I’ve loved partying with him over the years, and I look forward to more fun in the future.

Above: Chris as Nosferatu and me as Igor in a drawing I made… this is how we party, people. Ballou digital drawing, 2017.

I have two artworks from Chris in my home. The first, Thrustmasters, is at the top of this post. And here is an untitled fridge interior from around the same time – 2012 or 2013, just as Chris was moving into his Thesis work.

Chris Hall- Untitled Fridge Interior (Vampiric Food). Oil on panel, 7×10.5 inches, 2013.

Chris is one of my favorite subjects for illustration (I’ve drawn caricatures of my friends, family, and students for many years). Not to be outdone, Chris had me pose for a number of his paintings early on, and those sessions are some of my favorite moments in academia!

Me posing for Chris… meme-ified.

Chris shaking his groove thang… Ballou digital drawing, 2016.

2017 Pride

I completed a number of projects in 2017 and started a few more. Setting goals and keeping an eye on the prize during the vicissitudes of daily life can be hard, but I’ve gotten better at it over the years (thanks mostly to my loving partner, Alison). I already mentioned stuff about my exercise routine, and posted about my exhibition of recent work (that opens today!).

Back in May I set some goals for the year while at the Wakonse Conference on College Teaching in Michigan. Here are my written goals:

I’m happy to say that I’ve worked to complete most of these items and even those I’ve not yet finished have been pushed forward. I’m glad, given how agitating 2017 was socially and politically, that at least in terms of family and my work I’ve been stable and focused. The results are things of which I am really proud.

Probably highest on my list is the publication of my essay On Scholarship: Empathic Attention, Holy Resistance. It appeared in SEEN Journal and explores the importance of attention in an environment of political vitriol and “fake news.” I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it – it’s one of the best things I’ve written in years, and it shares space with artists and writers and thinkers I admire. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to have this piece out there.

A shot of the cover of the SEEN Journal and a copy of the first page of my essay. Above is a copy of The New Territory.

I am also super excited to be working on a piece for The New Territory. If you are a Midwesterner, you need to get this publication. I am working on a piece exploring the work of Joey Borovicka and adjacent ideas about interiority, Midwestern space, and solitude. I can’t wait to get it finalized and ready for the editors to sort through. Getting to write about key ideas and the work of others is very important to my identity as an artist and educator. I also just love being involved with publications like The New Territory and SEEN. They are labors of love and works of passion that really do the hard work of shoring up meaning, intellectual effort, and spiritual yearning.

I hope to continue this trend in 2018, as I’ve got the Promotion to finalize!

 

 

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.

img_0259img_0262img_0261img_0260

 

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 ❤️

Some Excellent Student Work, 2016-2017

My work as an educator is central to just about everything in my life. I’m constantly thinking about my students, working with them, trying to make my classes better, refining various projects, and generally just trying to be present in the process of their learning. I try to hold back on over-explaining myself to them – one of my biggest problems is giving the “answer” while still explaining the premise.

In any case, it’s always good for me to look back over the academic year and see what students have made. Of course, as a Teaching professor, keeping a record of my students’ work is also key to my career. Mostly, though, I find that looking through the “best” of what they make tells me a lot about what I’m presenting to them. Sure, art is subjective in a number of ways. But it is also one of the oldest and most explored arenas in all of human history. As such it is a realm of much wisdom and meaning. How my students interpret and remix the ideas I give to them – whether those concepts are philosophical or technical – is an indicator of not only how well I have explained myself, but also how much has passed through me from those who came before.

Here are some of the works my students have made over the last year. I’ll post them roughly in the order they would appear in class… basic projects, moving into more refinement and invention.

(Note: I’m including the major of the student in question, so that you can see that most of my best students are, in fact, not Art Majors. They come from all over the academic spectrum. Art has something important to give to anyone in any course of study, and that’s a reality that used to be promoted in the academy…)

IMG_7418Michael Flinchpaugh (Architecture). Perspective and Accumulation Study. Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_2378Brittany Burnett (Architecture). Interior Space Project 1 (Art Building). Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_2376Shannon Henderson (Journalism). Interior Space Project 1 (Art Building). Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_9731Kearra Johnson (Art), Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_2800Shannon Henderson (Journalism). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_2801Megan Feezer (Health Science). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 18 by 24 inches. 2017.

IMG_2802Xinyi Hu (Religious Studies). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_9730Michael Flinchpaugh (Architecture). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_0253Shannon Kling (Art). Detail of Apollo, Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts – Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri. 18 by 18 inches, 2016. Now on display at the Museum.

IMG_0252Emmalee Wilkins (English). Detail of Apollo, Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts – Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri. 24 by 18 inches, 2016. Now on display at the Museum.

IMG_0777Kearra Johnson (Art), Self Portrait at Mizzou. Graphite on paper, 18 by 24 inches. 2016.

IMG_0780Alex Knudsen (Communications). Self Portrait With Aliens. Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_0255Mia Scaturro (Art) working on a self portrait in black and white colored pencils on gray paper, 2016.

IMG_1991A chunk of “unicorn turd (oil pastel scrapings molded together)” collected by Color Drawing (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced) student Sterling Labarbera (Art), 2016-2017.

IMG_1753Blessing Ikoro (Psychology). Grid Study 1. Chalk pastel on paper, 18 by 22 inches, 2017.

IMG_2825Madalynn Olmsted (Art). Grid Study 2. Colored pencil on paper, 16 by 16 inches, 2017.

IMG_2831Alexandra Sapaugh (Art). Complex Colored Pencil Study. Colored pencil on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2017.

IMG_2823Alexandra Rowles (Health Sciences). Complex Oil Pastel Study. Oil pastel on paper, 16 by 20 inches, 2017.

IMG_2824Alexandra Sapaugh (Art). Complex Oil Pastel Study. Oil pastel on paper, 17 by 17 inches, 2017.

IMG_9836Bridget McFerren (Art, Art History, Multicultural Studies). Lunch (Wings). Oil pastel on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_2828Noor Khreis (Art). Reflection Self Portrait (In a sheet of bent metal). Chalk pastel on paper, 18 by 24 inches. 2017.

IMG_2826Blessing Ikoro (Psychology). Reflection Self Portrait (In an ice bucket). Chalk pastel on paper, 24 by 18 inches, 2017.

IMG_2827Madalynn Olmsted (Art). Reflection Self Portrait (In a pair of tongs). Oil pastel on paper, 15 by 24 inches, 2017.

IMG_9736Bridget McFerren (Art, Art History, Multicultural Studies). Reflection Self Portrait (In a chrome sphere). Oi pastel on paper, 15 by 15 inches, 2016.

IMG_2829Madalynn Olmsted (Art). Complex Lighting Arrangement 1. Chalk pastel and collage on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2017.

IMG_2830Alexandra Sapaugh (Art). Lighting Arrangement 1. Chalk pastel on paper, 18 by 18 inches, 2017.

IMG_2725Alexandra Rowles (Health Sciences). Lighting Arrangement 1. Oil pastel on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2017.

Amazing work – I can’t wait to see what they do next!

One Year After

It has been a year since my heart attack. Since my cardiac arrest. Since the trauma I don’t remember and that my family saw. Since members of my family kept me alive until the EMTs arrived. Since the radical changes of diet and lifestyle. Since the shift in horizon.

img_2048

Three days before that I lost my big sister; a life of incredible value and service, gone. Two months afterward my estranged step-father died; a life wasted in self-concern and alcohol.

How would people have summed up my life one year later, if it ended that night?

img_2049

Since I didn’t go, I have to assess it myself. I know my life has been valuable. I know I have taken deep draughts of experience and thought. I have been astonished. I have been disappointed. I have known love and sacrifice. I have seen things that made me cry in sorrow and weep in happiness. I have tried and failed, then barely hoped and succeeded. I have yearned and yearned, in spite of cheesiness or irony. I have worked so hard and received so much through no merit of my own doing. I have believed and doubted. All through I have attempted to be honorable and careful, passionate and present. Sometimes I have succeeded.

img_0200I am SIMUL IUSTUS ET PECCATOR.

I am AGATHOKAKOLOGICAL.

I have tried to understand what it all means. I still don’t. But I think I have some sense of how it feels.

~

It feels a little like these songs (click the titles to listen):

 

At Last

I can say that I’ve lived here in honor and danger

But I’m just an animal and cannot explain a life

Down this chain of days I wish to stay among my people

Relation now means nothing, having chosen so defined

And if death should smell my breathing

As it pass beneath my window

Let it lead me trembling, trembling

I own every bell that tolls me.

 

Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Driving home I see those flooded fields

How can people not know what beauty this is?

I’ve taken it for granted my whole life

Since the day I was born.

Clouds hang on these curves like me

And I kneel to the wheel

Of the fox confessor (on splendid heels).

And he shames me from my seat

And on my guilty feet

I follow him in retreat…

What purpose in these deeds?

Oh fox confessor, please,

Who married me to these orphaned blues?

“It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder

When the death of your civilization precedes you.”

Will I ever see You again?

Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?

I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again.

 

A Widow’s Toast

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

The tears are warm, I feel them still.

They’ll heat to vapor and disperse

And cloud our eyes with weary glaze.

You raise your glass and may exclaim,

“I’ll put my hands on the truth, by God!”

But it’s faster, love, than you and me –

Faster than the speed of gravity.

That’s how it catches you from falling

And how it always, always, always slips away.

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

And better times

And better times

Are coming still.

Neko knows what to say.

~

I find attention, clarity, and rightness in teaching. I find wonderful confusion in my art-making. I find solace and laughter in my wife. I find a strange wine of joy and frustration in my children. I feel both lost and found. I feel both at home (warm, in bed), and far away in the dark (clouds, wind). I’m in orbit around a great truth and yet my tether is strung out miles from safety.

Believe it or not, all of this is so much better than the 3 or 4 years before the heart attack.

I know that some would want me to declare something, some truth, some more faithful words, some thoughts that sound more spiritually centered. I’m sorry.

Today, I want to take the lessons – the cumulative astonishments of being – as they come. I want to have joy and camaraderie in my students. I want to be gentle and full of wonder with my children. I want to continue to cherish my wife. I want to be a better husband, father, son, brother, artist, teacher, mentor, helper, and friend.

No regrets. I have not loved every moment, but I have been given such grace and love. I’m thankful.

~

img_0164

Post-Heart Attack Drawings

My recent work, titled WHENEVERWHEN, is a series of abstractions. A few days after I awoke from my heart attack I began to make drawings; from then on I worked almost exclusively on the WHENEVERWHEN series. The first images I created are below. I made them laying in my old room in my mother’s house while convalescing. I worked on them within two weeks of my cardiac arrest. All are available at $75 each, unframed ($100 gets you one custom framed). Email me at mattballou(at) gmail (dot) com to purchase. Click to enlarge the works.

img_0734Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon and marker on paper, 9 by 8 inches, 2016. SOLD.

img_0733Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon, white-out, and marker on paper, 7.5 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0732Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon, white-out, and marker on paper, 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0731Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon and marker on paper, 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0730 Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, collage, adhesive tape, ink, crayon and marker on paper, 10.25 by 9 inches, 2016.