Statement, January 2012

     I create paintings, drawings and prints in an attempt to address – through archetypal themes and symbols – the fundamental questions, ideas, hopes, and concerns I have about being in the world. I write texts in an attempt to integrate rational conceptions and reflections with my passionate, sometimes illogical, image making. In tandem, these avenues of expression form a multifaceted arena of investigation and inquiry that I use every day to – hopefully – understand and make sensible the miraculous reality of being.

     The statement above relies on the fact that I am deeply interested in three main aspects of the human condition: being, symbol, and body.

     I am intrigued by the state of evocative subjective experience that Gaston Bachelard described as “the astonishment of being.” Thus, though I am interested art of all kinds, I take particularly to those forms that connect with our embodiment or sense of being. This means the physical world, the objects we use and love, and the bodies we inhabit are particularly important to the sort of art I want to see and make.

     It follows then that I find the expression of meaning through symbol – that is, the potential for objects to accumulate and resonate with meaning – to be a central interest of my art-making practice.  Anything containing meaning has been, as John Dewey wrote, “funded” with importance through the physical interaction and intellectual contemplation human beings have invested in it over time.

     The body is the zone of incident where being-ness and the structures of significance coalesce. Therefore, I foster a deep appreciation for the human body as a container for and calibrator of meaning and knowledge. As a maker of images – be they painted, drawn, or printed – I function as a symbolist in the traditional sense; I create tableaus for the relational contemplation of that which is beyond the facts of appearance. In doing so I hope to stimulate an evocative, transformative experience in my fellow human beings.

Transient Geometries at Antelope Valley College

Quintessence #10, multiple monotype and woodblock prints, with acrylic, graphite and gouache on paper, 2009. Click to enlarge.

I’ve been included in a small group show at Antelope Valley College, which was organized and curated by AVC Professor Christine Mugnolo. I’m honored and excited by my fellow exhibitors: J. Jordan Bruns, David Eddington, and Lisa C. Soto. Click here for the AVC Gallery page describing the show!

Full disclosure: I went to grad school with Christine and she was the subject of one of the shows I worked with Gillock Gallery to organize back in 2006. I wrote an essay about Christine’s drawings and Gillock published a small catalog for the exhibition containing the text and a selection of her work. I’m really proud of that entire project and hope you’ll take a look here.

Here’s one of the drawings from the show – Self Portrait on Olive Ground, Pastel on toned paper, 24 by 18 inches. Click to enlarge.

Looking Over the Overlooked at MACC

Jacob Maurice Crook and I have a show together at Moberly Area Community College. We installed today and the exhibition opens this coming Monday, June 6th. I hope you can get there to see the show – MACC’s gallery space is quite nice – but if you can’t make it, check below for some shots of the work installed. Click each image for enlargement.

1 ) Crook’s main wall arrangement. One larger oil painting, a small work in oil, and a mezzotint.

2 ) Crook’s inner room set – two oil paintings flank a beautiful graphite and gouache work.

3 ) Crook’s side wall, with an oil piece, two large mezzotints, and a graphite work.

4 ) Crook’s behemoth Hitt Street Garage, an 18 foot, 7 inch oil painting.

5 ) Ballou’s main wall set, with images from Chicago during 2000 and 2001.

6 ) A grouping from Ballou’s 2008 Illinois beach house series.

7 ) Ballou’s 2008 Michigan light photos.

8 ) The 2004 Whitney Ceiling set, installed physically for the first time here (I presented them online during 2010 at this link.)

If you are now sufficiently inspired to see the show for real, MACC is located at 101 College Ave. Moberly, MO 65270.

And here are our statements for your perusal:

Looking Over the Overlooked Exhibition Statement

Matt Ballou and Jacob Crook present work that engages with the proliferation of commonplace, yet ignored, spaces in the urban and suburban landscape.

Using primarily photographic images, Ballou depicts an iconography of geometries and formal tensions based on his experiences with specific interior and exterior spaces over the last decade. Several bodies of work from very different locations around the United States take center stage. These include a latticework of appropriated images showing the ceiling of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, a multitude of manipulated photographs of a skylight in a rural northern Michigan home, and a series of images of the degrading arcs and angles of a dilapidated municipal beach house in northern Illinois. Installing the images in broad arrays allows for a serialized, comparative reading that creates interplay between the total effect of the group and the specific characteristics of individual images. The works are not meant to be singular expressions but rather cumulative contemplations of space, place, light, and the modular effects of specific structures.

A dedicated representational painter and draftsperson, Jacob Crook’s work starts with repeated observation and detailed consideration of the overlooked arenas that quietly dominate the American landscape. Relying heavily on James Howard Kunstler’s book The Geography of Nowhere, Crook’s paintings, drawings, and prints attempt to come to terms with what Kunstler describes as the American “obsession with mobility, the urge to move on every few years” and the results of that tendency: “we choose to live in Noplace, and our dwellings show it.” Casting his eye on the margins of suburbia, Crook tries to locate the dynamic tension that exists between the land and our mundane domination of it. Crook carries on the legacy of landscape painting while rejecting its inherent valorization of the subject matter. Instead of merely creating pleasant pictures, his work uses the historical authority of both painting and the landscape to project a subversive series of questions toward viewers.

Together the work of these two artists is a vision of what American space has become. Not an entirely negative perspective, the work is meant to provoke an introspective attitude in viewers, challenging assumptions and calling questions to mind: “What spaces do I want to live in? What has dictated the sorts of spaces I live in by default? What is my responsibility for the reality of these spaces?” The artists hope that by bringing their own investigations – as humble or as banal as they might seem – to viewers, a thoughtfulness and contemplation might be stimulated.

Biographical Information

Ballou is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the University of Missouri where he has taught since 2007. In 2011 he presented a major solo show at Gordon College in Wenham, MA and will exhibit with internationally renowned artist Tim Lowly at the 930 Art Center in Louisville, KY during the summer of 2011.

Crook earned his BFA from the University of Missouri in 2009. His work was recently included in the prestigious Fort Wayne Museum’s Contemporary Realism Biennial. He has been accepted to Syracuse University’s graduate printmaking program for the fall of 2011.

Jacob Maurice Crook | Artist Statement

My work is a contemplation of how the physical design of our surroundings can influence social behavior and also offer insight to cultural practices that inform the nature of such designs. In choosing the subject matter of my imagery, I focus my sights on the fringe of suburbia, attempting to locate dynamic tensions existing between the landscape and the homogeneous developments quietly dominating its topography. I chose to reject the idealized depiction of subject matter inherent in the history of American landscape painting. Instead of merely creating pleasant pictures, I use the history of both painting and landscape to project a subversive series of questions to viewers: What spaces do I want to live in? What dictates the spaces I live in by default? What responsibility (if any) do I take for the reality of these spaces?

Matthew Glenn Ballou | Artist Statement

These photographs were never meant to be artworks per se. Over the course of many years I have used photography as a way to decipher my own eye, as a way to better understand what visual dynamics draw me to certain scenes or arrangements of form and space. So most of what you see here was entirely reactive and instinctive at the beginning. I was attempting to see something in what others might easily overlook. Ultimately it worked, and in many ways these images have become historical and canonical to me. They are also nostalgic in that they are documents of places and times that carry personal significance. In them I see my own eye remixed, my own memory re-contextualized. In them I see a field of visual forces at play, which I have taken and used, reused, and reapplied. I present them in this way at this time to heighten my experience of their formal tension and balance in contrast with my emotional feeling for the spaces and times they represent. I present them so as to experience all of this again, anew. It is the contrasts and resonances made possible by this new context that bring artfulness to the work. The images themselves remain snapshots while the relationships among these fragments become a place for art experiences to reside: between the lines, in the overlooked spaces, around corners, beyond sight.

Inspiration – Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi created an amazing series of prints called Le Carceri (the Prisons). I recently found out that the Saint Louis Public Library has an edition of the prints, so I’ll be over there to see them soon.

The Prisons, Plate VII: The Drawbridge.

In these works the master deftly shows the ability for etchings – and really all of printmaking – to transcend the sense of a single, locked image that is a stereotype of the discipline. Using an inventive, intuitive action, Piranesi works the various states of the prison plates in dramatic fashion, transforming their contents, scale, and mood. The Dover publication of the first and second states of the plates is well worth the price.

I picked that book up in 2004 and it has inspired a great deal of my perspective on line work and current interest in printmaking as a malleable medium – as seen in the image above, titled The Weight (etching and mezzotint, 2008). Click on the image for a larger view.


Installing at Gordon

Today I arrived at Gordon College to install my exhibition of paintings, drawings, and prints, titled Redeeming Tensions. Bruce Herman, a Professor at Gordon and director of the gallery, worked with Leo (installer extraordinaire!) and me to hang the show. Here are a few shots of it all going up.

I also spoke for Associate Professor Michael Monroe’s class of 75 or so – fielding all of the students’ questions made for a good time.

More tomorrow after the opening reception talk. If you’re in the area (eastern Massachusetts), stop by! It’ll be at the Barrington Art Center on the Gordon Campus.

So far I’ve felt such a kinship with everyone here. It’s a great place; the beautiful campus has a massive blanket of snow but everyone is pleasant and uplifting to talk to. I’m really looking forward to the reception…

Lamentations 3 Series Complete

This weekend I printed and framed the last of the Lamentations 3 Series. I’ve talked about it before here, here, and here. It’s been a long journey: 20 months, lots of rocking on the mezzotint deck, the production of beautiful coppery glory, and a ton of revision. Tonight I pack them up for the trip to the Gordon College show. Here’s a preview of the last two, freshly finished (click for larger view… sorry, close up viewing is a little blurry; look for a super clear set of the whole 16 mezzotint series in a few months):

Lamentations 3, Verse 16

Lamentations 3, Verses 19-20

Almost Done…

Just two more mezzotints to print in the Lamentations 3:1-20 series. One is entirely complete while the other is 2/3 done. I expect I’ll be printing them by Tuesday. It’s been epic and challenging working on this series for the last 16 months. In some ways the works are so far outside of my instincts… in others they’re right in line with my sensibilities. I am super excited to see them up in just a few weeks at Gordon College. I’ll post images…

Coyolxauhqui and Me

Above is the awesome stone relief featuring Coyolxauhqui. Check out her story about embarrassment and dismemberment here.

Below is my mezzotint print illustrating Lamentations 3, Verses 10 and 11.

I was inspired by Coyolxauhqui’s stone disk and tried to give my piece some of the energy of that image of the ancient Aztec goddess of the Moon.

This piece and 15 others based on Lamentations 3, Verses 1 through 26 (as well as drawings and paintings of other subjects) will appear in my solo show at Gordon College in Massachusetts this February and March.

Vacation = Work

This Thanksgiving Break my wife and I decided to stay at our home here in Columbia, MO rather than going to visit family for the holiday. There’s a lot going on for us, and for my work in particular. There’s no time to take a break.

I’ve got three significant shows coming up. The first is a wonderful show at the University of Mary Washington Ridderhof Martin Gallery in Fredericksburg, VA. The exhibition is titled SHADES OF GRAY: Drawings in Graphite and will run from January 21 – February 25, 2011. I’m particularly excited about this exhibition as Joann Moser, Senior Graphics Curator from the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, will be presenting a lecture and placing the work on view in context. Below is one of the four works of mine that will be included in the show.

Anthropology (Conceits of Knowledge #3), graphite on paper, 38 by 42 inches, 2008.

The next show I’m involved in is a solo show at the Barrington Center for the Arts at Gordon College just outside of Boston, MA. The show is titled Redeeming Tensions and will feature approximately 40 paintings, mezzotint prints, and drawings. It’s the largest show I’ve ever attempted. It will run from February 5 through March 19, 2011. Below are two of mezzotint plates I’ve been working this week. The finished works will be printed and appear in the show.

Lamentations Chapter 3 Verse 8, copper mezzotint plate, 2010.

Lamentations Chapter 3 Verse 14, copper mezzotint plate, 2010.

The final major show I’m involved in will be a two-person exhibition at the 930 Art Center in Louisville, KY with Tim Lowly, one of the most amazing representational painters working today. It is an extreme honor to be asked to show with him, and I am super excited about our show of tondos. I’ve got some work for this show underway but since it’s a while until the show opens I want to keep that under wraps – the run should be June 17 – July 31, 2011.

So, as you can see, I don’t have time to take vacations from the things I love, the things I’m passionate about… and I wouldn’t want to. Faith, family, art making, community, teaching; I life for and in and through these things. They may all seem like cliches to some people, but I’ve got a full life and a full plate. I love it and I am thankful for it.

Andrew Glenn in Moberly, Mo

Printmaker and teacher Andrew Glenn has a show, entitled Standardized Diversity, up at Moberly Area Community College in Moberly, Missouri through December 3. I visited the show last week and enjoyed a number of the works. Below are a few images from the show. You can find out more here.

1 Installation (Pig Storefront) with printed newsprint, light, and wood.

2 Detail from Summer (Pallet of Watermelons), Marker on foamcore.

3 Detail from Fall (Pallet of Pumpkins), Marker on foamcore.

4 Installation (Horse Storefront) with printed newsprint, light, and wood.

5 Pallet of Eggs (Dozen Cartons), Digital print.

6 Detail of Pallet of Eggs (Dozen Cartons), Digital print.

7 Fire (Offshore Oil Rig), Marker on frosted mylar.

8 Portrait, Marker on monotype prints.

Andrew is a fellow MFA graduate from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. He was there studying Printmaking while I was working on a Painting degree. It’s always nice to see a fellow IU grad continuing to work and make a path in the world. My best to Andrew and his family!