Critical Review- Exquisite Monsters: Lost & Found in the Art of David Ball

, / 400

Patron of the Arts contributor Andria Spencer stopped by David Ball‘s studio to review his most recent body of work which has been divided between this past (2011) August showing at San Francisco’s premiere street art gallery, 941 Geary’s “The City We Love” and his upcoming February show Harum Scarum with Jesse Balmer and Katherine Brannock at 111 Minna opening February 2nd, 2012. (details on this show can be found, here:)

Critical Review- Exquisite Monsters: Lost and Found in the Art of David Ball

Collage is an art of the Lost and Found- it loses its original context to be found in a new configuration; not only a transformation of shape and line but from one idea to another. As an art form the history of photomontage is radical and rebellious, the darling of the fringe. But its roots are embedded in something lyrical: the towering assemblage of images that defines Bosch, the compositional whimsy of Arcimboldo, the incorporation of fragile papers in 10th century Japanese calligraphy, the addition of precious metals in the depiction of weeping saints. In its 21st century incarnation, David Ball creates somber fantasies that conform to the requirements of classical painting; a narrative unfolds in a lush landscape, images are metaphors understood by the contemporary viewer. But there the similarity ends.

Unlike traditional photomontage, Ball eviscerates images and repurposes the color and form: a doll’s torso becomes a flower, a peacock feather becomes the face of a doe-like creature, ribbon candy forms an open grimace, eyelashes are fashioned from octopus tentacles. This hints at a kind of surrealism, the upending of one meaning for another, but his works are not as prescribed as that. They are neither dreamscapes requiring translation, nor are they beautiful accidents-the images lie somewhere in between, in a place where imaginative surgeries create exquisite monsters, chimeras of paper and paint.

A graduate of Massachusetts College of Art, Ball’s early career was in editorial illustration, but as his technique become increasingly complex and individual, his subject matter too became personal. It is this balance found in his existing work- between the contemporary and the personal- that makes the images resonate, that builds a connection with the viewer beyond the curiosity of technique. For indeed, Ball’s images are compositionally arresting, kaleidoscopic carnivals of color and detail gotten through layering collage material, paint, and colored pencil. In a time-intensive process, Ball forms ideas through the first step of abstract painting. He then covers the painted panel with photo images, then engages in a process of what he calls “seaming” which connects and extends images through drawing. Finally he applies a coat of matte medium. A finished piece has up to twenty layers of collage, drawing and medium.

The intensity of process is evident in his current collection of work “Postcards from the Unconscious”. In the seven works, Ball creates grand, mythic images that, had they an identifiable context, could be mistaken for traditional religious or mythic allegories. But Ball’s iconography comes from what he calls “personal allegories”; figures enact scenes that seem both familiar and mysterious, invented myths for an invented world. In “Wallow” a tiger in the foreground is haunted by his former prey. In “Pilgrim” a traveler sets upon a journey of self-discovery, riding past the worst of himself in trying to get tothe best. In “Drowning” a figure meditates before a fire, but illumination (the figure in the distance) is too far off. These images speak to power (the loss of it) and longing, and a kind of loneliness inherent in 21st century contemporary life. In Ball’s world we have harnessed the power of technology, (notice the many uses of machine parts) and have created alternate realities. This world and its onslaught of images, such as the elegant cacophony on the panels, promise more, and yet more, though it does little to soften the hard internal journey through life.

 In “Jetsam” a large water dragon and an apparition surround a small boat. An innocent stands in the boat waiting for response. Again, power and longing come to play in the piece, as well as the anxiety of expectation. What will happen? This is a constant in Ball’s work, the anticipation of the image’s conclusion, the tension derived by the event that is just about to transpire, that moment when power may become balanced and longing vanquished.

In true 21st century fashion, Ball “samples” from other sources, using images that refer to both other cultures and time periods. “I am accessing so many aspects of various cultures while disregarding any of the cultural mores attached to them, [and] I feel that my work certainly reflects what it is to be an artist immersed in a disposable print culture, in the midst of the dawn of the information age”. Though his approach to art seems the perfect reflection of an age of image bombardment, when pressed for an assessment of his own work, Ball acknowledges the intimate origins of his process: “My work is a pillow to scream into”.

-Andria Spencer, contributor to Patron of the Arts

*Andria Spencer has written for the Los Angeles Times and Kirkus Reviews. She lives in Southern California.