Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Elephant in the Room

The Art of David M. Ball
by Stephanie Chefas

photo by Shaun Roberts

I was first introduced to David M. Ball's art in April 2009 on a trip to San Francisco at the Cigar, Bar & Grill. On a quest for the perfect happy hour, my boyfriend and I popped into the bar on a whim and were immediately captivated by a series of collage compositions of surreal, twisted dreams on exhibit. These works never left my mind; I was infatuated and entranced. Six months later when the Squids created the theme for our first curated show, “The Devil Made Me Do It”, artist David M. Ball was, without a doubt, at the top of the list. To our delight he happily agreed and submitted two outstanding pieces, 'Third' and 'Dependency'. Here David shares some insight into his artwork and what makes him "tick".

Stephanie Chefas (SC): When hearing about the theme for "The Devil Made Me Do It", what was your initial reaction?

David M. Ball (DB): Sincerely, the thought that there is no devil or external force to make me do anything but I was glad that that the theme left room for work addressing moralizing, guilt, fetish, and introspection.

photo by Megan Wolfe

SC: What are some things in your life that the devil made you do?

DB: For that answer, we would have to go back to the days of my Catholic upbringing. I suppose in my moments of iffy lingering faith when I was in my early teens I may have perceived the devil tempted me away. I would say that with 25 years between myself and that decision now, I am in the clear.

SC: What was your most memorable dream or nightmare?

DB: I rarely remember my dreams. I try to manufacture them on canvas instead.

SC: Can you tell me about your process?

DB: It goes through changes but most recently, it starts completely abstract with aggressive paint application with no attempt at representation. Once I have a base (or as I have been working lately, multiple bases) I dig through my collage files which are also organized abstractly by palette. When I cut material, I generally just trim away to abstract shapes for texture or form. These files are extensive and are all pre-cut and in drawers classified by palette alone. Once I have a palette base of paint down, I look through the material files and pull out shapes and test them out on the surface. Once an image begins to suggest itself, I let things grow from there. The first phase takes a very long time. This is why I work on multiples- so I won't get bored. Once those elements are done, the rest is painting and drawing, building up in layers until complete.

photos by Megan Wolfe

SC: Is the process different with your illustrative works?

DB: As mentioned above, with fine art, I don't like to plan. As an illustrator, I am used to planning and there are benefits to it but I find that when I let things evolve of their own accord, I create works that I would never make if I was allowed to remain fully conscious of the objective. My work when I was younger involved a ridiculous amount of planning. Now I just let it go and see where it takes me. I tend to learn a lot about myself in the process-sometimes good and bad. I think these growing pains are part of the process.

photos by Shaun Roberts

SC: Is there any particular mythology at play in the two pieces you submitted for the Devil show, 'Dependency' and 'Third', or in your artwork as a whole?

DB: No, It is a strangely veiled, cryptic form of self examination or sometimes social commentary. I think that the few who know me best can see right through them.

SC: Many figures in your works feel isolated (even if surrounded by others). Is this a self-examination or a social commentary?

DB: This was self examination on some level but also I notice this in urban living. Many people living within the same areas, repeating the same patterns yet never seeming to cross the threshold into connection- in some sort of strange state of isolated coexistence. People unravel alone, right in the midst of others.

SC: Both pieces (and many of your works in general) have a very mechanical feel to them, with certain body parts like their eyes resembling solid objects or even small machine parts. Is this in any way a commentary on man or nature?

DB: All of it is a commentary on various human behaviors but the parts are almost always chosen as shapes that seem to make sense and look cool to me, no so much what they are. The reason why I have my files pre-cut is that I don't want to be conscious of why I am choosing them. That said, I am sure there is some unconscious drive at work but if so, I have done an excellent job of hiding it from myself. Mainly I am just fascinated how our primitive nature will seek what we already identify with, ourselves, in everything we see no matter how unrelated logically.

SC: In 'Third', I see a female figure who's physical appearance has a cold exterior and is some-what grotesque looking upon a small girl with an almost angelic aura. I wonder if the chained mechanical female is viewing herself in a hand mirror which shows what she believes is her true self; kind, gentle and perhaps meek or innocent. How do you see this piece?

DB: It seems that everyone is compelled to look past that corncob. It is the "elephant in the room". She seems to me more an anima as I believe both embody me on some level. The figure in back is a purer youthful self. I have my opinions on what I was addressing here about myself butl an element of mystery is best retained as, the beauty of surreal work is its capacity to unleash the unconscious of the artist and the viewer equally. Like each individual, its relationship to each person can be distinctly different, unique and unrelated. There is no one correct read for others. I think that at times, the artist knows as little of their intention as the outside observer. In such circumstances where i am inclined to express the meaning for me, I beat the narrator in me into submission and keep him out of people's way.

SC: 'Dependency' has a twisted, dark, yet candid view on motherhood. What was your influence when creating it?

DB: Although there are breasts, the figure could male or female- just a persona. It is more about them having something to provide and the false masks that other's will don to get access to it. For me though, I suppose it addresses some relationships with the opposite sex, maternal or otherwise. At its root, it is about how we treat each other, relationships in any form, addiction, and dependency.

photo by Shaun Roberts

SC: What is the most notable compliment, comment or critique about your work you've ever received?

DB: A stranger at a show once said my work was "like a deep wound bleeding out onto the canvas". A bit melodramatic but for the darker works, I can see it. I have a light side too although whenever I show it, I am told it is nearly as dark but I disagree. These days I find myself in a very good place taking on a direction that makes use of a more full range of emotion, exploring high key colors. Basically, I'm having fun.

For more information and to view David's available artwork from "The Devil Made Me Do It" group show, visit
WWA gallery. To learn more about David and his art, visit

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