I’ve got a group of works on display at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. The show runs through October 6th, and I’ll be giving a talk that evening. For a preview, look below.
This is the third time I’ve shown this body of work, and I’d like to get the chance to show it again. The subject of the work – a “friendly-fire” bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. If you’d like to see more about this situation, check out my writing about it here.
I’m also pleased to have a small group of my collaborations with Joel T Dugan also on display at the gallery. These Phoneme works are some of my favorites, and there are a number of just finished works included.
Eric L. Sweet left us suddenly on April 6, 2015, at age 44. Sweet was a beloved member of the MU Art faculty, having worked at MU since 2012 as an Adjunct Assistant Professor, teaching Printmaking, Drawing and 2-D Design courses. He was an alumnus of the Art program, having earned both his BFA (1997) and MFA (2011) from the University of Missouri. In 2008, he received an MA in Printmaking from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Sweet was an active member of the Southern Graphics Council International and the College Art Association.
To celebrate Eric’s life and positive role as an educator, Sweet’s wife, Catherine Armbrust, established The Eric Sweet Exhibition & Speaker Series to continue passing on his gift. I have created a series of work celebrating Eric almost every Seize the Sixth, and this year is no different. I will be donating 100% of the sales of these pieces to the Fund. This program was created because he strongly believed in the importance of community accessibility to art and encouraged meaningful conversations about the state of contemporary art. Funding this annual exhibition and speaker series for the gallery is the perfect way to make contemporary work accessible to the MU and Columbia communities, and to honor this special man who made an impact on so many lives. In fact, the initial funding goal was met in 2021 and the very first iteration of The Eric Sweet Exhibition & Speaker Series took place on December 6, 2021. See the exhibition poster here.
Look over my limited series of CNC relief cuts, posted below. If you’d like one, contact me. You’ll get an icon of Eric’s life and students and community members will get to see art because of the donation I make from the sale. As Eric (and his 4th grade teacher) might say, “You don’t HAVE to, you GET to.”
I’ve made eight artworks for Seize The Sixth this year. There is one group of five CNC relief cuts that feature the classic “running devil” icon that Eric had embroidered on one of his work shirts. Below the devil is featured part of Eric’s axiom, “YOU GET TO.” It’s a proclamation of hopefulness and gratefulness. Here’s a detail of the Running Devil carving if you want to see a close up view.
How to get one?
I can take PayPal, CashApp, and Venmo (click each for a link to my info). If you’re local you can give me cash. The cost $50 each for these. Ones with text are 5.25×5.75 inches and those without text are 4.5×5.5 inches. Each piece is made on a PVC sheet and painted in gold spray paint. Each is signed and numbered. The ones with text are numbered 1 through 5 and the ones without text are numbered 1 through 3. First come, first serve. Feel free to email me if you have any questions – balloum (at) missouri (dot) edu.
Why no Sweet Audio this year?
Most of the time I’ve been able to put together a compilation of classic Sweet audio clips. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any more usable clips this year. There’s a chance I still have some in the depths of my files, but I just couldn’t locate anything for this year. In lieu of that, please head over to SoundCloud and check out the previous years’ offerings!
On February 25, 2022, I had the privilege to meet with students and give a talk over at Missouri Valley College. It’s about an hour away from Columbia where I teach, and the talk was in support of my exhibition at the college, Digital Art: Exploration and Education. I gave a brief overview of my use of digital tools, from nearly 25 years ago through today. If you’d like to watch the talk, I’ve added in all of the visuals I used, but I also worked in supplemental videos and other support information to bring more background to the talk. Many thanks to Mary Linda Pepper Lane, Sarah Fletcher, and Mike McJilton for their hospitality and conversation during my visit.
Below are a number of the works I showed in that exhibition. Left to Right, Top to Bottom: “Young Joe,” “Cardiac ICU,” “Touched Pelvis,” “Color Figure Study,” “Hitt Street Parking Garage,” “Jesse,” “Self Portrait With Neck Girth.”
From a conversation between David Gracie and Matt Ballou on January 15, 2022 in Lincoln, NE. Editing for clarity and length.
Matt: The installation of this exhibition isn’t chronological. What was the idea? That there would be pictorial themes or color themes?
David: That’s right. It’s not chronological, but there are some pieces that are grouped together, you know? There are pictorial themes, and I think that kind of like went with the territory, with the type of painting he was doing at any particular time. So there’s landscapes, still life, portraits, and figures.
This exhibition is a little bit different because there are some older works that are kind of out of context, but I thought they were worth putting in just because of the spirit of the show. So there are two rooms of main, finished works, and then there is also the room of only unfinished work.
David: These two real highlights of his portrait painting. I love these two paintings. If I could have gotten the George Tooker portrait, it would have probably been my favorite one. I remember when I had him as a teacher, he talked about that George Tooker painting as being the best portrait he’d ever done.
I think the different conventions (landscape, portrait, still life), you know, they all kind of add up to the same type of thing. But this (show) is a result of the work that was available. And also, in some ways, this is the way he would have done it (a range of whatever was available at the time). Because, when he had shows, they would be called just, like, “NEW WORK.” And then there would be some thematic shows that the galleries would put on, like Alan Stone Gallery and those 57th street galleries that would do still life or portrait shows. Because this work is all coming from Gretchen, his widow, there are 16 portraits of his son, Rushton.
Some of these works he was doing when I was a student. He was talking about Van Gogh’s boots and that Diamond Dust Shoes essay, the Fredrick Jameson one.
Matt: I love the shadow here.
David: I love the fact that the boots can’t sit there. There’s not enough space. They poke out into our space because like that line doesn’t make room for the heels. The heels couldn’t live there.
Matt: There’s a simultaneous compression and expansion to it.
Matt: I feel like there’s like a luminous opacity in so many of these. It reminds me of some passages in Paul Fenniak’s work. There’s a sense of it being so thick but also almost phosphorescent…
David: You can see that it (Brown’s approach at times) was very much like Lennart Anderson. And then over the years, you know, he would [shift influences and interests], so he went through these different, completely different phases, you know? And he was part of a whole group of artists that were meeting together (in the 70s and 80s), the Alliance of Figurative Artists.
Matt: What’s the timeframe on making these works? Did he have them scattered around the studio and he was working on them over months and years?
David: Yeah, off and on like that. He would work on the paintings for a very long time. That’s how he worked, though; he would do forty paintings at a time. There’s a lot of on these, too.
Matt: I mean, the thickness of that! There’s so many layers of glaze… almost like it’s got the presence of light and flesh at the same time. That quality.
David: He would pile it on and then sand it off – power sand – the surfaces down. He worked in a barn, too. You can see it in the other room (featuring unfinished works), like, different stages of development. Also, on this Gillespie (portrait) in this room.
Importantly, he lived near Gillespiein Massachusetts, and he was really into Hans Holbein and Spanish still life painting. Towards the end of his life, he was really into self-portraits. He also painted a bunch of trees, like these weeping cherry trees.
When I was there (Hartford School of Art) he was the kind of guy who would get up every morning at 5:00 a.m. to play tennis. He was strapping, super energetic, and full of exuberance when I knew him. I knew him from ‘97 to 2002 and then kind of lost touch with him. Then he got sick. Some of the students he had after my time said he taught in a wheelchair.
David: Gretchen told me how sometimes she would go out to his studio and say something about a painting, like, “Oh, I really like this part.” And then she’d go to bed, only to hear the power sander start… he’s just sanding that part off!
So, it’s like these things are so precious, but at the same time he’s so willing to just power sand that shit off! There’s such precision and detail but none of it was safe. On one hand he’s got all of this chaos going on – some of these look like they were laying on the floor and he’s stepping on them, you know? But then you go over into the other room and see some of those perfect portraits with incredible frames, and the contrast is so intense.
Matt: But then you think, did they exist in that (chaotic) state at some point? You know what I mean? I think they probably did.
David: Yeah, I would say they did exist in that state at some point. And you can see some that are almost there but not quite…
Matt: Because it seems to me that the cohesion that the finished ones have – some of these more refined ones – that cohesion is based on it having come through that unsafe process. I do like that a lot of these things require a sitting period. They’re not alla prima at all. The accrual has to happen.
Matt: Is this show kind of like a labor of love for you? The essay you wrote is great, and I especially like the title, the poetry of the title (“The Aching Beauty of It All: Paintings by Stephen Brown”). You know, it’s almost like something that he wouldn’t have done for himself. But that’s the way he talked about painting, right? Like, the feeling in the moment of painting, in the moment of observation.
David: Yeah. I mean, that’s what his painting was about. It was in the painting. He didn’t write shit about it. Writing was too literal. So I was self-conscious about [writing about it] because it is almost like, too much, too earnest or something.
Matt: But that’s kind of the way it all is!
David: Yeah, the whole thing is so earnest. But it’s not like some of the over-the-top, romantic painters out there taking themselves too seriously. He wasn’t self-centered.
Matt: It’s straight. There’s no affectation. That’s the difference. It’s not trying to be something other than what it is.
David: I just wonder if other people see it as if there is too much, of it being on the edge of too earnest. Perhaps there is some affect in that way.
Matt: Well, that’s half my problem over the last 15 years: with all the horrible things going on in the world, can I believe in the earnestness of this act (painting, art making)? But the sense of living in the work is so present here; obviously he’s worked on some of these for hundreds of hours, potentially. So much evidence of time and attention.
David: With the amount of sanding and number of layers going on we have no real idea how he got from A to Z. Maybe I have a closer idea of how they work than someone generally, but still, I’m not quite sure. I think his works are hard to unravel in terms of how they feel.
But that was his thing.
Matt Ballou is an artist and writer who teaches at The School of Visual Studies at the University of Missouri.
David Gracie is a painter and professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
“The Aching Beauty of It All: Paintings by Stephen Brown” will remain on view at Elder Gallery in Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Rogers Fine Arts Building at 5000 St. Paul Avenue, Lincoln, NE through January 30, 2022
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.
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.
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 second iteration of an exhibition exploring trends in contemporary abstract art is now on view at Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Elder Gallery. The first version of the show took place last year at The University of Missouri and the exhibition will travel again in 2019 and 2020.
The main change in this 2018 version is that additional artists have been added, moving the roster up to 20 individuals – 13 women and 7 men. The works have also grown in diversity, with more sculpture, assemblage, photography, and fibers works entering the constellation.
This show centers on the work of Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito. A constellation of 17 other artists appear in this view into contemporary abstraction, and their work incorporates Painting, Drawing, Digital Drawing, Photography, Fibers, Assemblage, Collage, Sculpture, Relief carving, and other forms.
Sarah Arriagada, Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, Gianna Commito, Ryan Crotty, Joel T. Dugan, Dan Gratz, Michael Hopkins, Erin King, Kristen Martincic, Marcus Miers, Hali Moore (Oberdiek), Justin Rodier, Elise Rugolo, Amanda Smith, Lauren Steffens, Sumire Taniai, Jm Thornton, and Jennifer Ann Wiggs have work in this exhibition. Click on their names to see their websites and find out more about their work.
As you can see from the exhibition listing at NWU’s website, I’ll be at the gallery on December 7 to talk about the show and answer questions. I’ll also spend some time meeting with students and engaging with the school community. I love the chance to spend time in the space with the work and field questions in the moments of viewer experience. The works are meant to be seen, interpreted, and extrapolated.
These few views can’t really give you a true impression of the show. I hope if you’re nearby you’ll stop in. My efforts to curate interesting collections of works are definitely becoming more and more important to me as an artist and educator. Particularly, with an exhibition such as this one, I am afforded the chance to expand and contract a specific intellectual and aesthetic gesture. I find that tremendously exciting. This iteration of the Restraint and Limitation show is probably the most expansive version that will happen, so it’s intriguing to sense how constrained it still feels. I am passionate about small works that distill meaning and experience, defying long-held notions about what art is supposed to do.
To close out this announcement post, here’s the bit of writing I had affixed to the title wall:
The logic of abstraction cannot be reduced to a few dudes painting in mid-20th century America. This exhibition is meant to present another view. Anna Buckner, Sharon Butler, and Gianna Commito, the three core artists presented here, show commitment to the aesthetics and procedures inherent in abstract painting while bringing diverse pressures, materials, and processes to the form.
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.
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.
Kehinde Wiley‘s portrait of Barack Obama is a nice addition to the history of presidential portraits. It contains a wonderful and strange double narrative. He emerges, calm and distinguished, from a wall of bushes: the Bush Era. The Bush, however, still ensconces him. It clings to his feet and begins to shroud the regal chair upon which he sits, just as the context set by George W is never too far away from the Hope and Change Obama partially realized. He is separate and beyond that Bush. But it still forms the space within which his history takes place.
We can blame Bush and Cheney for starting it, but we have to admit that Obama made mistakes in dealing with shit they started. And we have to deal with the reality that there are unfortunate continuities from Clinton through Bush, Obama, and into the Trump administration. Yes, he helped end the recession and signed Dodd-Frank. But he also bailed out the banks and auto industry, moves which were not necessarily in the best interests of the 99% of us. Yes, he spearheaded the reform of health care and a nuclear deal with Iran, but both of those – like so many of his accomplishments – have been constantly undermined and/or reversed; the solutions weren’t robust enough.
The portraits are wonderful, but the President’s is a reminder that his legacy is double. I’m certainly not negative against President Obama. I think he did a decent job with the hand he was dealt. I think he was an inspiring leader and a person who used the government to help many people. Unfortunately, he also maintained a lot of the ways and means of previous administrations. He had to work within structures that often subvert human dignity and fail to lead to lasting change, which is partly why Trump has been able to counter so many of his best efforts.
I hope that we soon have leadership who will take the best desires of a man like Obama and reject the insidious systems operating within this country that keep us from truly liberating “the better angels of our nature.”