Purchase photos

Artist's exploration spirals out at Moss-Thorns

10/28/2013

By MOLLY WALTER

Hays Daily News

Matt Ballou visited Fort Hays State University last week to wrap up his solo show at Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art, "Asevenandawonadoe", and to visit with students about art and philosophy.

Originally from upstate New York, Ballou didn't think he was going to go to college. Most of the people in his town didn't go to college.

"I had kind of an epiphany moment when I was working on a machine that broke down in the middle of winter. And I was laying in the snow, looking up at the sky, and I realized I didn't want to look back in 10 years and wonder what I had done," Ballou said.

He decided the next day he was going to apply to college, and the following fall he started at Pratt Institute in New York and later transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago. After receiving his bachelor's degree, he worked as a shipping and receiving manager for an art store for a little more than a year then pursued his master's degree at Indiana University.

After applying for several jobs, going through several interviews -- but never being offered a job -- he finally was hired at the University of Missouri. He interviewed there at the beginning of his job search, and when a new position opened up, they called him back a few years later to interview again.

"I never really thought I would end up in the Midwest, but here I am, and I've been here for a long time -- most of my adult life," Ballou said. "It's really been just this adventure of making work and trying to show and engaging the students and really falling in love with the student part of it. I didn't know if I was going to like teaching at all, and it was when I was in grad school that I got that passion."

Ballou now teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced color drawing and foundations drawing at Missouri. He also periodically teaches painting courses and every summer teaches an intensive painting course.

"The show 'Asevenandawonadoe' is really sort of a survey of what I've been doing the last few years. I've really been obsessed recently with the sort of tension between geometric abstraction and what happens when I actively compose."

He's realized there's geometry and symmetry everywhere in the world.

"The sense that we see these repeated structures from the spiral in the cochlea of our ear to the spirals in the shell to the spiral that's in the galaxy or a hurricane, there are certain principals that seem to emerge."

So he created a series of spiral paintings that incorporate not only his previous explorations in geometry, but also his daughters and experimental ways of mark making.

Ballou brought in his daughters, Miranda and Madeleine Caiqun, both 3, to help with his work by starting each piece for him. Ballou and his wife recently adopted Caiqun from China.

"I've focused more in the last six months with having them help me and letting them have a hand in that initial making. Letting them put their uneducated, natural instinct to make a mark into the work," Ballou said. "They are adding something that's related to the rest of the world, and I find that really compelling because so much of the time I can take myself so seriously, so I like the idea of having these two little girls come and take that away and force me to deal with something that's outside of myself."

Even the title of the show, Asevenandawonadoe, was created by Ballou's daughter Miranda, a made-up word she invented.

"To me, it was really beautiful to realize that it was in the invention and in the play that she came up with these words that meant all kinds of things to her."

Besides letting his daughters help with his work, he purposely chose to build his abstractions with a potter's wheel because it was a different way for him to put down a mark.

"It was a way for me to paint without using my natural hand," Ballou said. "It's very different from how I normally work."