IN CONVERSATION: Austin Ballard + Nadia Haji Omar

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IN CONVERSATION:

This series of exhibitions is about starting a conversation – between two artists, and with the viewer. We invited an artist partner to ask another artist that inspires them to exhibit their work together. In Conversation captures the exchange between two practicing artists that illuminates the parallels they recognize in their work and beyond.

Austin Ballard, a Charlotte-born and New York-based sculptor, works with woven cane and extruded epoxy clay to craft objects with spontaneous structures, meandering shapes, and camouflaging shells.

Nadia Haji Omar, an artist of Syrian, Indian, and Sri Lankan descent based in Rhode Island, creates works on paper and paintings that are meditative and improvisational accumulations of small gestures built upon each other.

While both artists’ work differs in their mark-making and materiality, Austin and Nadia’s lyrical approach to imagery, with no clear beginning or end, allows the eye to abandon outcome.

Austin Ballard + Nadia Haji Omar Installation photos by Lydia Bittner-Baird. Nadia Haji Omar artwork images courtesy of the Artist and Kristen Lorello, NY, photos: Charles Benton / Jeffrey Sturges. For inquiries, email: info@hodgestaylor.com.

"Hi Nadia, it’s so great to begin this conversation with you for our upcoming show at Hodges Taylor. I guess I’ll start by saying that we met through mutual friends many years ago, maybe 2014, and I’ve loved following your work ever since! When the gallery asked me to invite another artist to do a show with, you were at the top of my mind. I feel as though our work shares many threads that encompass form, material and process in similar ways. I have always been interested in the use of repetition in both acts of ritual and labor. And where the accumulation of material, gestures or marks may suggest a labor and devotion that, at its most elevated, becomes something greater than the physical act of making.

It seems to me that your ability to blend the use of languages, mark making and materials suggests a non-hierarchical, yet rich practice. This seems to me to be a sort of accumulative process. I wonder if you could speak to your relationship between accumulation and repetition and how, if at all, these ideas resonate with your practice?"

AUSTIN BALLARD: AUSTIN BALLARD Perforator I, 2022 Cane webbing and epoxy clay 32 x 21 x 24
7000

"Hi Austin! Yes thank you, I am excited for our show and thank you for selecting me to do the show with you! I have really enjoyed following your work and its evolution. Our work has a lot of formal concerns in common, I agree. Even though we work in different mediums, sculpture and drawing/painting I think we share a similar delicacy and sensibility, and I felt that almost immediately when I first saw it. Often when I look at your work I do not know where it begins and ends, which is a great quality. There are clear elements of accumulation but the path from start to finish is not explicit.

The relationship between accumulation and repetition is for me a mutually dependent one. The more repetitive mark making I engage in, in the process of making a piece, the more it affects the final accumulation which is the completed piece. This process for me is primarily a meditative practice but also a means to an end. I want the viewer to have a vastly different experience with my work close up than from a distance. The idea of building up an image of tiny fragments is important because I think it reflects our own bodies and the natural world. Everything in our world is made up of small parts, cells, molecules the closer and closer that we look. This simple idea is central to my work.

Certainly we are both concerned with elements of devotion, ritual and labor. I think another idea we both deal with is spontaneity or the gesture of an abstract line. In my recent work I have been exploring this through Asemic writing, specifically in some of my text-based works. Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word Asemic means having 'no specific semantic content' or 'without the smallest unit of meaning'. For me this lack of meaning or void provides an entry point for the viewer to interpret and fill with whatever is projected based on their individual culture, history, education, personality etc. When I trace some of the lines and shapes in your sculptures it reminds me of these abstracted written elements. Is this something that you think about or ideas that you work with at all?"

NADIA HAJI OMAR:

Blue Star, 2018

Acrylic and ink on bleedproof paper

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed)

2800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR

ர / R, 2020

Ink and dye on paper

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed)

2800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR

NADIA HAJI OMAR

Green and Brown, 2018

Ink and acrylic on bleedproof paper

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed)

2800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR

December, 2017

Ink and graphite on paper

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed)

2800 framed

"I can really identify with this idea of Asemic writing in your work. All of my work, whether it’s in form or surface, considers what it means to be incomplete, absent, or in some instances withholding. I feel this has a kinship with your interest in the 'void'. I think devotion is a perpetual and unending practice, and so I find it necessary that the work sometimes never finds a final resting place. That it be a continuous form, line or part of the whole, that is my practice. When it comes to my surfaces I was originally attracted to 'meander' patterns and what are mathematically considered 'space-filling curves' for this same reason. The continuous nature of these lines suggest an infinite and vastness that a central motif or image couldn’t. I also liked this tension between what’s traditionally allocated for the 'border' of an image or 'filler', in the design sense, and made it one of the central decoding elements of the work"

AUSTIN BALLARD Hyper-Vent II, 2022 Synthetic cane webbing, epoxy clay, stained pine 68 x 60 x 1.25 inches 8000 AUSTIN BALLARD:

"That's so interesting! I think the seemingly endless or infinite quality is something strongly present in our work. Even if sometimes my work has a central shape or figure I always make the background or space around it feel vast or continuous. Similar to seeing a planet in outer space or an object floating in the deep sea. This sense of the infinite is crucial to my work. Oftentimes people will tell me that my work would look great as fabric, textiles, or that it lends itself to a design format that requires repetition. I am often drawn to art work that has this quality of being unending, or being a fragment of something much larger than itself. To me this type of work signals humility and also echoes the natural world. The natural world is one of my primary inspirations and I was wondering about yours. How do you compose some of the dynamic and fluid forms and shapes in your work? What do you take inspiration from?"

NADIA HAJI OMAR:

What!?, 2022

Ink and graphite on paper

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed)

2800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR AUSTIN BALLARD Perforator II, 2022 Cane webbing and epoxy clay 34 x 34 x 20 inches 7000

"The forms are both meticulous and improvisational. I try to work on multiple pieces at once, so that no individual work is worked from start to finish without being broken up into stages. I feel this brings a level of surprise, newness and unfamiliarity with my own work. Therefore the sculpture becomes generative, where each panel is built in response to the last. While I play with forms that may appear to be rendered using digital or computer guided tools, they are completely coil built by hand. For the last eight years or so, my sculptures weave together natural formations like coral, Bonzai, Scholars Rocks and Hoodoos, with an architectural interest in Victorian rattan furniture, lace and quilts.

I wonder, looking at some of your work, if there is also an interest in the metaphysical or allusion. I’m fascinated by artwork that brings imagery and ideas that are not necessarily part of our physical world. For example, your use of layered dots, eyes, or beads creates familiar yet unique characters that blurs our ability to distinguish or 'fit' the imagery into perfectly categorizable boxes. I feel in this inability to make perfect connections, we get lost. And it’s getting lost that I am most drawn to. I wonder if you could speak to your use of allusion or the metaphysical in your imagery?"

4500

NADIA HAJI OMAR ١ (waahid), 2019 Acrylic and dye on canvas 16 x 16 inches

4000

AUSTIN BALLARD Perforator III, 2022 Cane webbing and epoxy clay 32 x 24 x 18 inches

"I think I should explain the origins of some of the mark making to explain my relationship to the metaphysical and allusion. My original goal when I began using tiny mark marking as a way to build a painting or drawing was juxtaposition. I wanted to combine the fluid and watery quality of dye and other waterbased mediums with the sharper characteristics of drawing. I wanted this to happen in an organic way but one where these two qualities were not fully fused. I wanted them to co-exist, harmonious but separate. I used the circle and line or dash as they were the smallest shapes and marks that naturally lend themself to repetition. The optical effects of their mass accumulation often surprise me, it is always unpredictable. It is important to me that the work feels familiar but at once unfamiliar or new. This echoes for me the process of making an art work. It is a magical, otherworldly experience, if you want it to be. You begin with the known but travel somewhere new and exciting, a place that never before existed.

The motion and movement in your work is interestingly in contrast with the slowness and stillness you experience when looking upon the details of each piece. Can you talk about your interest in this juxtaposition?"

NADIA HAJI OMAR:

Red and Blue, 2019

Watercolor and acrylic on paper

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed)

2800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR NADIA HAJI OMAR ٦ (sitta), 2019 Acrylic and dye on canvas 24 x 24 inches 7000

AUSTIN BALLARD

Where do you Stay? (Lighting in 7 Parts, Closed Cane), 2019

Cane webbing, wood, brass chain, aluminum, epoxy clay, electrical components

94 x 23 x 23 inches

7000

AUSTIN BALLARD:

"I love this question, because I think it gets at the heart of what it means to encounter an art object. It is inherently both still and active, vacant and embodied. I find my work reinforces this balancing act. Where the form becomes a sort of snapshot or freeze frame of an object in transition. Whether it’s through twisting, carving or pinching volume and shifting patterns through disjointed seams. This constant recalibration of form and surface becomes a driving factor for the work's ability to speed up when the viewer wants to go fast or slow down when they want to rest."

NADIA HAJI OMAR:

"That’s so fascinating, and makes me now think about how your works correlate to their titles. I love your titles! Can you maybe speak about what helps you to select them?"

L, 2022

Ink, acrylic, and colored pencil on paper

8.5 x 5.5 inches (paper), 11.25 x 13.25 inches (framed)

1800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR

NADIA HAJI OMAR

Grass, 2022

Ink, acrylic, colored pencil, graphite on paper

8 x 6 inches (paper), 11.25 x 13.25 inches (framed)

1800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR

Bluebells, 2022

Ink, acrylic, colored pencil, graphite on paper

8 x 6 inches (paper), 11.25 x 13.25 inches (framed)

1800 framed

"Yeah, titles are a funny thing. Of the work in the show, I’m including three different series: Dappled Dunes, Perforators, and Hyper-Vents. Dappled Dunes, was the first in this series of cane works, and was begun while in residence at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. I realized I was making these sloping, cascading carved forms against the backdrop of sand dunes on the coast of Massachusetts and so the moniker of 'dunes' stuck. And I liked the dappled for its alliteration, as well as its reference to the extruded braille-like surface. Perforators and Hyper-Vent, the newest series, was born out of a sense of claustrophobia and almost aggressive isolation I was feeling during the pandemic. I wanted the work to 'open' up with a sense of meticulous deconstruction.

Having never shown our work together I am excited to see how our works will engage one another in the gallery. I feel our work both creates a dynamic relationship between the natural and the artificial. Could you speak to your use of materials and in particular your recent inclusion of gemstones, minerals and other physical elements?"

AUSTIN BALLARD:

12 x 9 inches (paper), 17 x 14 inches (framed) 2800 framed

NADIA HAJI OMAR Square font, 2020 Ink and graphite on paper

"I am excited to see how your work and mine engage in the gallery as well!

In paintings I use primarily dye, watercolor and acrylic paint. In drawings I use ink, graphite, acrylic, colored pencil and wax among other materials. The recent inclusion of natural gemstones and other minerals in both painting and drawing is a way for me to directly include part of the natural environment in my work. I like that different minerals and gemstones have various qualities and properties both physical and spiritual. I wanted to imbue my paintings with a sense of peace and to find a way for somewhat unnatural materials to form a harmonious relationship with something that was not man-made. l enjoy placing these tiny objects, and using them as an alternate drawing tool to direct the eye in different directions than the ones being implied by the other materials. It is still a relatively new part of my practice so I am learning new things about this all the time."

NADIA HAJI OMAR:
ARTIST BIOS

AUSTIN BALLARD

Lives and works in Ridgewood, NY (b. 1987)

Born in Charlotte, NC, Ballard received an MFA in Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design and a BFA from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, where he also served as an Assistant Professor in Textiles. Ballard has received numerous awards including a Joan Mitchell Foundation Scholarship, a Windgate Foundation Fellowship, a Kenneth Stubbs Endowed Fellowship, a Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant, the Chenven Foundation Grant and the Rhode Island School of Design Graduate Studies Grant. He has been awarded full fellowships to the Museum of Arts and Design, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Ox-Bow School of Art, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, Wassaic Project, and the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. Ballard has been featured in Maake Magazine, Art Maze Magazine, Wall Street International and Wide Walls. Ballard has held solo exhibitions at Smack Mellon, NY, Wave Hill, NY, Napoleon, PA, Real Art Ways, CT, and Ithaca College among others. Upcoming shows include Mckenzie Fine Art in New York, NY and Whitespace in Atlanta, GA.

NADIA HAJI OMAR

Lives and works in Rhode Island (b. 1985)

Nadia Haji Omar is an artist who explores issues related to the human mind, body and environment. She often combines the practices of painting, drawing, and photography. Her work investigates and visually addresses the philosophical and physiological challenges of the human condition. Haji Omar is of Syrian, Indian, and Sri Lankan descent. Haji Omar received a MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2014 and a BA from Bard College. Her works have been discussed in New York Magazine/Vulture, and Hyperallergic, among other publications, and are included in the collections of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI, and the Hallmark Art Collection, Kansas City, MO, among others.

For inquiries, contact: info@hodgestaylor.com HODGES TAYLOR 1414 S Tryon St, Ste 130 Charlotte, NC 28213
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