Artist of the Week: Austin Ballard

Austin Ballard was born in Charlotte, NC. He received his MFA in Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design and his BFA from the college of Art and Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Ballard has received numerous grants and awards including a Joan Mitchell Foundation Scholarship, the Dan Bown Project Award, Jeanne Stahl-Webber Sculpture Scholarship, the Rhode Island School of Design Graduate Studies Grant, and an Attilio and Emma Della Biancia Scholarship. He has received coverage for his work in the Providence Journal, ArtCat, Flux-Boston and awarded the Grand Prize at the 2012 Boston Young Contemporaries exhibit at Boston University. He has been awarded fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center, the Ox-Bow School of Art, I-Park, the Wassaic Project, the ESW in Edinburgh, Scotland and most recently the McColl Center for Visual Art.

Ballard has exhibited in both solo and group shows throughout the nation and the UK. His next solo exhibition will be at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT this December. Austin Ballard currently teaches in the college of Art and Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I was born in Charlotte, NC where I have lived for most of my life. My father is from Louisiana and my mother from Chicago. I grew up always interested in the arts, although I’m not sure why since my mother was a mortgage lender and father, grandfather and all of my uncles were mechanics. My grandfather was a driver in NASCAR in the 60’s and 70’s and my father and uncles’ all pit crewmen when I was growing up. I went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for undergrad thinking I was going to be an architect, before eventually making the shift to the art department to focus on sculpture. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design for my MFA. I am currently an instructor in the textiles and fibers department at UNCC, but see myself moving back up north this summer.

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What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? Like many of my peers, my practice involves an array of materials, media and processes. My time is split between the woodshop and foundry where I am cutting, planning, joining, and welding new forms and the ceramic studio where much looser more intuitive vessels are created out of fired clay. I find the interlacing of these two categories of building sparks an interesting dialogue between collapse and control, solidity and fragility, and ultimately time and place.

I hope to create objects of a strange quirky elegance, while simultaneously engaging notions of modernism, architecture, and contemporary craft. The hand coiled ceramic vessels are meant to recall arid landscapes and natural rock formations like that of a Chinese philosophers stone or a Hoodoo from the Midwest. While the more linear steel and wood components are derived from fetishized simplifications in modern furniture and architectural design. I implement such off beat material combinations––wood/glass, ceramic/steel, and plastic/concrete––to reinforce these questionably balanced and seemingly contrary coexistences.

While the work is designed to appear stacked, propped, leaned, or wedged together, creating snapshots of imminent shifts or improbable couplings, further investment signals that they are both engineered and crafted to notch, slide, and rest into one another.

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Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I am currently creating some new work for my next solo show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT this December. The show will consist of new and recent sculptural works as well as introduce some new works on paper that began at my Ox-Bow residency, in Michigan this past fall. The show will be up from December 19th to February 14th.

I will also be in a group exhibition at Projekt 722 in Brooklyn, NY this spring, the 2014 Wassaic Project Summer Exhibition in Wassaic, NY and the Rosewood Gallery in Kettering, OH in July.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? I am still reeling from my encounter with Francis Alys’ A Story of Deception exhibit at MoMA in New York and seeing Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Autodestruccion’s at Regan Projects last year. Both Alys’ and Cruzvillegas work offer up an experience of raw heaviness and yet whether it is one of Alys videos or Cruzvillegas sculptures, the physical manifestations of their work are surprisingly weightless. Both artists are masterful in their ability to get my heartbeat racing, making me feel not as if I am a spectator, but as though I am in the space with them.

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What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? First off, I was born and raised in the south, so I live off of sweet tea. When I lived in New England the first thing I would do when making a trip back to NC was stop by a local Cook Out and order a large sweet tea. And anyone who knows me also knows that I love anything and everything to do with chocolate, especially chocolate pastries, muffins, cookies, cake, etc.

During a residency in Wassaic, NY I was coming back to my room super late at night after working in the studio and was dying for some chocolate chip cookies that I had bought the day earlier. Only to find that when I peeled open the package nearly all of the chocolate chips had been scooped out of the cookies, leaving empty cookie shells. It didn’t take long to realize that a mouse or bug had gotten into them and eaten just the chocolate out. I eventually threw them out, but not after debating, just a little to long, about whether or not to eat the few that seemed to be untouched.

What do you do when you’re not working on art? When I’m not doing the art thing, be it working in my own studio, visiting friend’s studios or going to openings, I am probably playing music, ping-pong, gin rummy or poker. While I have my own place now, I’m used to living with a bunch of people. They always became total punk houses. Bands wound up playing our living rooms, there would be full on ping-pong table sessions inside, nurf wars and card games were pretty common. My last roommate Yuki and I decided to paint our entire living room wall into an American flag. We were stoked when we found out that the next tenants liked it enough to not have it painted over.

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What are you currently watching on Netflix/what’s on your Netflix queue? The last movie I watched on Netflix was Hick. I was surprised how much I dug it; it was a random choice that totally paid off. It takes quite an unexpected turn and Eddie Redmayne does an amazing job playing the twisted cowboy drifter. Outside of Netflix, I watch Boardwalk Empire and Homeland pretty regularly.

Tell us a joke. What did the optimist say when he jumped off the building?

…So far so good.

What are you listening to right now? The Steep Canyon Rangers, Tycho, Liars, Sandro Perri, Lee Fields, and Mammoth Grinder have been pretty repetitive lately.

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Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Ok, so I guess the most ‘positive’ reaction I have ever received for my work was at my last solo show in Philly, where a collector/gallerist bought one of my works on paper. However, I sort of equate the best and worst reaction I have ever had to my work happening simultaneously. It was at a group show in Providence about two years ago, where I had installed a series of sculptural elements together on one large low-lying plinth. One of these elements happened to be a hand drawn replica of a crumpled Dunkin Donuts bag. It was about 10 minutes in to the opening that I realized that this piece was missing. After asking the gallery manager and others if they knew what I happened, I realized that the building janitor had thrown it out, believing it to be someone’s trash put on an artwork. At first I was bummed, but then I thought the whole situation was great, it was the most sincere and honest reaction I could have asked for.

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