Looking at David Ball’s mixed-media paintings is analogous to staring at alien creatures that function as your reflection. They exist in a parallel universe where life is represented through Rorschach test-like brush strokes and layers of magazine clippings. When viewing Ball’s work in person, it’s easy to imagine these creatures having paper bag hearts that feverishly contract and inflate when they feel they are being watched. Trapped in a contextual narrative, they are frozen in motion. Ball’s subject matter involves social commentary, relationships, internal struggle and the ever-persistent id.
Ball is a San Francisco, CA based artist. He uses acrylic paint, color pencils and countless magazine clippings. When Ball spoke to The Microscopic Giant he talked about order in chaos, surrealism by his definition, art and the three shows he’s got coming up next year.
Definition of surrealism
I would consider it a working method that tries to sustain a state of freeform, unconscious emergence in its creation. I have always had a bit of trouble with this beyond the first evolutionary phase as I engage in more of a point-counterpoint relationship with my work. I apply paint without reason but seek an imagined understanding of what that brings up for me, once I have I try to have faith that something within my subconscious is trying to communicate with my conscious self. That does not mean it is necessarily always deep. Sometimes joy is the only pressing agenda, other times things weigh heavier on your mind than others.
For example, I am currently processing some emotional changes. When working, I don’t need to make plans to have this influence come up. It is what is on my mind anyways. When these thoughts cease to need attention and are emotionally purged and processed, their narrative influences dissipate and work of a different nature arises. In this way I feel that works are conscious and unconscious at the same time. Until we have an answer about what things are, we are in an ongoing state of seeking.
Sometimes the collage elements provide clues. An object may be exactly what it is, it can be a cryptic metaphor, a play on words, an inversion… but combined together these images often form an organically emerging subplot that can’t be readily explained.
In the truest sense of the term, I don’t consider myself a “surrealist.” I don’t maintain a long enough state without awareness/purpose of the subject matter being created. I simply embrace some surrealistic sensibilities in the origin of the work. In this sense, brush calligraphy, expressionism, rococo, abstraction, cubism, bauhaus, and futurism and others also hold sway.
You have an extensive background in illustration. You seem to concentrate on making your work abstract, yet you have a tendency to put your images in a storytelling context. In what ways has your process progressed or changed?
I find it very hard to not come back to narrative. My snobby fine art sensibilities resist it but my need for understanding brings me back. Influentially, I mainly grew up on narrative work: TV, Daumier, Bosch, Goya, Rockwell, Suess, and Sendak, and weekly exposure to the stained glass stations of the cross…
Regarding my gravitation towards fine art from illustration: I grew very bored with planning out ideas. It reduced them to something conceptually one-dimensional for me. I feel that by approaching a work from different problem-solving sensibilities, the overall image remains alive longer. Developing images in a mixed-media sense gives me the comfort and room to change up priorities as needed and keep the process fresh. I do not feel that work needs narrative to have worth. I do however feel that I am naturally inclined towards emotional communication so I inevitably end up expressing something.
I think that, if anything has changed, I have accepted that the work will be what it will be.
Order in chaos
I believe that a sense of order can come from the acceptance of chaos. The only thing that we can believe in is that existence will play out the way it will. There is balance in that. I also believe that what we call chaos is simply a limited understanding of the complexities of the workings of existence. Without understanding, everything is chaos.
The Tenderloin[San Francisco, CA]
The neighborhood has its plus side: Lots of good restaurants and some okay bars. It is also affordable if you have rent control. On the downside: a fair amount of street hustlers, vagrants and in an apartment on my floor, a steady heroin trade.
Getting taken away from my family at eight and admitted to the hospital for Guillain–Barré syndrome (undiagnosed by the doctors at the time) and getting a spinal tap as soon as I got through the door. This lower body paralysis lasted about four to six months and they fiddled with me a lot because they did not know what it was at the time. I was roommates with two fully paralyzed kids. I got out, they didn’t. The experience was very sobering. When I got out, I started running.
I cannot objectively say. I don’t know how much about what I perceive of the past is accurate vs. affected by nostalgia, youthful perceptions of rebellion, etc. They are younger and I don’t know or doubt their potential.
What are you working on now?
I currently have 13 new pieces underway for shows in Austin, TX and Los Angeles, CA at Gray Duck and Cella Galleries. This summer, I will be in a two-person show at Old Crow in Oakland.
David Ball website: http://davidmball.net