Mike Ballard: Stations of the Elevated

Fusing painting and collage work, the installation artist talks super8 film and how growing up listening to hip hop has influenced him

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From the 23rd March, East London gallery Arch 206 will be showcasing the work of painter and installation artist Mike Ballard. Joining iconography and images of urban decay, the work paints a paradoxical landscape of a culture in flux. We speak to the man ahead of his show to discuss the modes and materials that matter to him and to find out why sampling is still his modus operandi...

Sampling is really part of my heritage, I grew up listening to hip hop music, and the appropriation of existing forms. I love the digging aspect of searching for records to sample and the whole cut and paste culture

Dazed Digital: What can we expect to see from the new work and what reaction do you anticipate from audiences to the show?
Mike Ballard:
I took the title for the show from a Manfred Kirchiemer film about graff, but that is where the parallels with street art end. The title fits because it embodies the idea of transit space and of the elevation of digital information into object. How digital information is everywhere and yet, nowhere. Like a god: elusive and also omnipotent.

Most of the work is collage and painting. I like to construct environments and allow the viewer to be absorbed. There are a lot of different layers of meaning but no overall narrative; more like a loose theme with a lot of different tangents.

DD: Light boxes and paintings on Super8 film have been used here. What do you especially like about these two mediums and how do they differ from graffiti and traditional painting techniques on canvas?
Mike Ballard: I've been using lightboxes to display my collages for a while. I like the comparisons to stained glass windows and also to illuminated signs and advertising, especially transit space advertising - stuff that needs to be seen fast - which is opposed to the traditional expectations of art. It also looks great. You can play with the wattage of the bulbs to get different tones in the lighting.

With super8 there is no escaping the absolute charm of the image you get: proper dreamlike, fuzzy, retro, distressed shit. It's great and is a lot more accessible than 16mm film. About six years ago I was  introduced to the work of Stan Brakkage, who makes incredible films out of old stock and paintings on Super8 film.

A few years back I went to New York and took my super8 camera and started filming from the front window of the trains. When I got back to London and checked the film on the projector it was over-exposed and much of the details were missing so I decided to paint directly onto the film and try to work with the image that already existed. It was only once I projected the painted film, that I started to see something interesting happening, and I suddenly had about 100 separate abstract  paintings on film. So I digitized these frames and had a selection blown up to 175cmx125cm. I like the re working of the image and the scaling up and down and process involved, it's more free than painting directly onto a pre stretched canvas, although i am really getting into painting with oils at the moment.

DD: Why collage?
Mike Ballard: Collage for me is like making a tune from samples, for me each image has it's own sound bite connected, it's own era and style. So it's like conducting an orchestra of images. My mum and dad were big Beatles fans and I remember staring at Sgt. Peppers album cover for ages, amazed at the image that looked like it knew it was pretending to look real. I try and keep an element of this in my collages, it would be too easy to make them look airbrushed and super slick as if they were real; I like that they don't hide from what has made them, butted together with differing image quality.

Sampling is really part of my heritage, I grew up listening to hip hop music, and the appropriation of existing forms. I love the digging aspect of searching for records to sample and the whole cut and paste culture. Hip hop opened up a whole world of music to me by giving me snippets of what was out there, it was then up to me to discover where the samples came from and find a whole load of new stuff to listen to.  Its the same for me with imagery, finding old photo archives and hunting for source material, it's all part of the process and something i'm always doing subconsciously.

DD: Statues, pillars and arches are set against images of ruin. Is this inspired by the imagery of rap music or is this about something else?
Mike Ballard: The imagery I use is more about imagery itself and the power it conveys, taking iconography to an extreme that it becomes a monument to itself.

Mike Ballard-Stations of the Elevated: Arch 402, Cremer Street, London, E2 8HD, March 23-April 13th

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