Harum Scarum: The Art of David Ball
The surreal works of David Ball are a kaleidoscope of color and detail. Armed with a myriad of magazine clippings, color pencils and acrylic paint, David creates delicate, yet complex other-worldly landscapes filled with fantastical creatures. These creatures who serve as personal allegories, bear witness to an internal narrative that simultaneously captures and challenges the viewer's imagination.
In anticipation of David's upcoming show at 111 Minna Gallery entitled 'Harum Scarum', we had the chance to learn more about this intriguing artist. Here he talks about life growing up in New England, the inspiration behind his latest body of work, and gummy bears.
Platinum Cheese (PC): You were born in the New England state of Connecticut in the early ‘70s. Tell me a little about your experiences growing up in a time period relatively free of technology and how did it stimulate your imagination?
David Ball (DB): "69 actually. My parents are pretty disciplined people and both encouraged learning. My father, an art director, had a natural gift as a storyteller and an exceptional eye for color. My mother was a kindergarten teacher and the town organist. From both of them I learned many things in my formative years. They were both very determined and curious, versatile thinkers in very different ways. I see now that they tried to keep us continuously engaged. I watched my fair share of television growing up but most of my time was engaged in drawing, music (french horn and violin), or physical activity (cycling, hiking, biking, football, baseball, basketball, running). Beyond this, I was not the typical kid. I had a 4 mile paper route in 3rd grade, was paralyzed from the waist down for 6 months in 4th grade (yup, no joke), was an altar boy, was in Boy Scouts, had violin lessons. The only thing I did not do much of was reading. This is not because of a lack of desire but a horrible attention span and jumbled language and musical notes. As such, I only really read as a researcher to satisfy curiosities or answer questions. I process and remember information in a more auditory, visual way. I feel that my parents encouraged creative thought as they had strong opinions and no one was shy about speaking their mind so there was debate. Beyond this, I was really lost in my own head and my young distinctions between reality and imagined perceptions was always a bit compromised. Where we lived, it was super quiet and the woods ran on forever behind my house so I would go on long walks and think, imagine, gather things. It was good.
PC: Was anyone else in your family an artist and did they encourage your artistic instincts?
DB: I would say most certainly yes although it was not their profession. My father was an artist with two major drawbacks, youthful poverty that left him without proper glasses for his compromised childhood eyesight and a the loss of the index finger on his drawing hand. This did not keep him from drawing and even going to night art school after work. An apartment fire destroyed nearly everything he had done before I was even born. There was one painting of his that I was mesmerized by in childhood. It was a deep, swelling blood red sea. It was extremely textural and the only thing like that in the house. My father threw it away. (It is funny how little we know of the manner in which our art influences the lives of others once it becomes part of their environment). My dad worked as a dot etcher on the graveyard shift back in the days before I was around and the extreme focal concentration did a number on his already compromised eyesight. In the end though, I think that the necessity of a job that could pay the lion's share of the support of a family of five and a grandmother. He maintained his interest in art through his enthusiasm for his design project and photography. My dad was really always teaching me something art related when I think about it. He etched ideas of value, color mixing, visualization, composition, storytelling, etc. into my head. Regarding encouragement: yes, my parents were very giving in providing me with training and initiating it of their own accord once they noticed ability. They did this with music as well.
PC: After receiving a degree from MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art & Design), you decided to leave the East Coast and sought out more of a bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco. What about Northern California do you love and how has it energized you creatively?
DB: I think that the easiest thing to say regarding this would be quality of the life and the manner in which that naturally influences mood and perception. I think that most of the influence for me is relational however as environment is not that specifically relevant as I work almost exclusively from my head. It is a good scene here though in the sense that, despite the pettiness that all art scenes have, SF actually has a fairly supporting, collective community of artists who support each other, get the word out on people's shows, etc. Everyone is just trying to move forward.
PC: This February, you’re featured in a group exhibit at 111 Minna entitled “Harum Scarum”. Tell me about the inspiration behind this latest body of work.
DB: Process was the biggest motivation as I wanted to experiment in a more aggressive way allowing the paint and collage to do more of the work and resolving more of the work normally reserved for pencil in paint. I also wanted to pay closer attention to allowing more of a balance between purposeful drawing and found, happy accidents only drawing if it actually required it. I also tried to just have faith that once I got going, the work would begin to flow.
PC: In a previous interview, you mentioned that through the creative process, you learn a lot about yourself- sometimes good and bad. What have you learned during the creation of your new works for ‘Harum Scarum’?
DB: That I had very serious resolve to make this show happen. I went through a lot of personal shit over the past six months but rather than getting down (??????????). Frankly, education was the most novel of the art supplies here and I suspect that my capacity to keep moving forward without getting all swallowed up in emotion had a lot to do with it. I think the other thing that I liked about this work is that I let it stay open and just be what it is. They aren't preachy or trying to convert opinions. They just are and I like that because it is novel for me.
PC: The surreal imagery in your work is largely due to magazine cut outs (mainly National Geographics). What about this particular medium attracts you over traditional paints or graphite?
DB: I don't really remember how it got started specifically but at some point around 94-95, I got in my head to try it. I loved it and got work but realized that meeting deadlines for this kind of work would be very hard so I devoted a year to precutting material so I could have it at the ready. I would put it up with putty on the wall and pull it down when I needed it. I found it unbearable to live with that much visual stimulus so I now only put it up for a couple weeks at the onset of a large body of work. As soon as that is done, I take it all down so it doesn't distract me and drive me nuts.
PC: If you could hang only one piece of art from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
DB: Gino Severini's 'Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin'. Honestly, I could choose from many others but the degree to which I love them would be equivalent. For me, I find it very interesting in use of color, planar movement and design.
PC: If I were to spend the day with David, what could I expect?
DB: If I take any more time on this, it will be with me mourning the fact that I didn't get the work finished in time for the show. I am pretty unassuming and low key- probably break out the chillum sit in a sunny dog park and have a beer as we try to throw gummy bears in each others mouths.