Master of Fine Art School of Fine Art

Blake Ballard

A white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern on paving stones

Blake Ballard is an artist and educator from Nebraska, the traditional lands of the Pawnee people. His art practice employs textile, print, and drawing techniques to celebrate his interests, create ties to his family lineage, and connect with craft communities across the globe. These investigations address the role of art in tradition, communal fellowships, queer spaces, and the political ‘status quo’ through an ever-evolving use of textile mediums. The resulting work frames these handmade objects as an avenue to broaden our social, cultural, and physical landscape.

He is currently exploring the influence of crochet patterns distributed throughout rural America in the 1980s through the early 2000s, in an attempt to unravel the complex meanings embedded in these seemingly innocuous patterns. This research reveals connections to religion, nationalism, and white supremacy. Positioned as a catalyst for ongoing inquiry, this current research emphasizes the transformative potential within the intersection of craft and culture, ultimately encouraging a broader conversation about the role of craft in shaping inclusive and conscious narratives in contemporary art.

Ballard has presented work internationally in group and semi-solo exhibitions including at The Vicki Myhren Gallery in Denver, Colorado; The Robert Hillestad Textile Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska; The Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore; The Glue Factory in Glasgow, Scotland; and ICAT at HFBK Hamburg, Germany.

Who sets the ground rules?
Printmaking Workshops
Underneath the Antimacassar
A white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern on paving stones

Who sets the ground rules?

Inspired by hop scotch games and chalk doodles on the playground, this installation is comprised of a large chalk drawing of a vintage crochet pattern pulled from my family’s pattern library.

Crochet patterns, especially in rural America, were used to bind communities together through recurring symbols and motifs, oftentimes reinforcing the systems in power. Who sets the ground rules? asks us to negotiate with those everyday patterns and norms that have unseen influence on how we interact with society, even if they are as innocuous as a crochet doily. Through the chalk pattern, the ground becomes a contested location where walkers are negotiating their role in a larger socio-cultural-political space. Each step smudges, smears, and changes the ground rules.

The first rendition of this work was installed on the Lasalle College of the Arts campus in Singapore for Tropical Lab 17 in July 2023. Over the course of a month-long exhibition, students, staff, and visitors were rewriting the pattern set into Singaporean soil with every step, shuffle, and smudge.

This work was then reimagined for a new exhibition in Hamburg in December 2023. In partnership with HFBK Hamburg, GSA MFA students were invited to Germany to share work at the Institute of Contemporary Art & Transfer. This exhibition was the sister show to the work shared in the Glue Factory for GSA + HFBK. Creating a new edition of Who sets the ground rules? allowed me to place this work in a new context, encouraging a new audience to negotiate their role in our larger socio-cultural-political spaces. Installing this work on a main thoroughfare of the building (the primary staircase) created multiple opportunities for visitors and students to interact with the chalk drawing. Whether it was tentative scurrying up the stairs or relaxed lounging on the design, this piece became the site of many conversations and gatherings. The exchange of knowledge continued with studio visits and short critiques between GSA and HFBK students. The exchange of work and knowledge through this partnership enhanced the context in which this doily pattern was received.

In a rare show of sharing creative responsibility, I sent a crochet pattern with drawing instructions to students at the University of Denver to install Who sets the ground rules? for the show F*Bomb in April 2024. I was asked to participate in this show alongside my old mentor, Sarah Gjertson. F*Bomb features the artwork of Gjertson alongside a sampling of her influences, mentors, and students. The curatorial approach for this exhibition parallels a community-centered ethos that grounds Gjertson’s artistic practice and approach as an educator. Her practice is inspired by feminist, anti-authoritarian, punk, and DIY subcultures and inspires me to think critically about the communities I make work within. This piece was installed by two current DU students, using instructions and a pattern I sent electronically. This experience forced me to give the control of making to another artist, tying into the call for action that my dissertation concluded on.

Most recently, as a part of the MFA degree show, I installed Who sets the ground rules? in the Glue Factory covering a large tank. The pattern drapes off of the tank and spills onto the warehouse floor, becoming a part of the Glue Factory and by extension, Glasgow’s canal and industrial history.

A white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern on paving stones
Installation view, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, 2023
An aerial view of a 20 meter long white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern on paving stones
Installation view, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, 2023
a close up of a white chalk drawing of a crochet pattern on paving stones with a ghostly white boot print
Detail, Installation view, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, 2023
An aerial view of a white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern on a staircase
Installation View, ICAT Hamburg, 2023
a group of young people sitting and drinking on a white chalk drawing of a crochet pattern on a staircase
Opening night installation view, ICAT Hamburg, 2023
a white man in a yellow shirt draws a crochet pattern in white chalk on a staircase
In progress, Installation at ICAT Hamburg, 2023
a digital drawing of a crochet pattern diagram with installation notes
Installation Instructions

a gallery floorplan with a crochet patterns imposed on top

Vicki Myhren Gallery Layout
a white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern located in a grey gallery
Installation view, Vicki Myhren Gallery, 2024
a white chalk drawing of an intricate crochet pattern that starts on top of a large boiler tank and continues onto the ground
Installation view, Glue Factory, 2024

Printmaking Workshops

Building off the success of a prior screen printing workshop in the Spring 2023, I worked with another MFA member, Zeena Wright Al Tai, to host an event for GSA’s 2023 Freshers’ Week. We created a drop-in workshop sharing natural dye and screen print techniques with new and returning students. This workshop was visited by over 200 students and reaffirms my interest in community engagement as a part of my practice.

Continuing with the support of the School of Fine Art, I was invited back to host a drop-in screen printing workshop alongside the school forum in the Spring 2024. This event encouraged more reflective feedback from students, anchored in a series of making events.

Finally, building off the success of Zeena and I’s prior partnership, we hosted two workshops fundraising for Palestinian relief. I coordinated and ran a Print for Palestine session introducing screen printing techniques and Zeena coordinated a session highlighting Tatreez embroidery. Together we raised over £200 to be donated to eSims for Gaza and Palestine Medical Aid.

two men screen printing at a table, surrounded by other students
Fresher's Week 2023, Photo: Beck Slack
Print for Palestine Workshop, 2024
Print for Palestine Example, 2024
SoFA Spring School Forum, 2024
SoFA Spring School Forum Example, 2024
Print for Palestine Poster
Poke a Patch for Palestine Poster

Underneath the Antimacassar

“White stitch work attached by unseen tacking. Velvety upholstery, slippery language, and the compulsions of times not my own. Antimacassar separating me from it, meaning from origin, knotting colonial legacies to present day. The constitution of sign and idea binding craft to form. Lift the mantle and read the writing on the chair.”

This text is embroidered in cream thread on white cotton, mimicking the Frisian whitework of the 1600s. The text was inspired by a similar reflection on the word ‘antimacassar’ by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Diverse production and research methods allow one piece to reference our social and political histories with a focus on imperial craft.

The initial steps of making a doily includes drafting a pattern and crocheting the lace details. This bird motif represents the Garuda, a Hindu god and mythological bird important to Indonesian heritage. On Indonesia’s national crest, we see the Garuda with outspread wings, similar to the United States spread eagle motifs that permeate many of its governmental bodies.

Learning about the history of antimacassars, or chair doilies, led me to the story of how the language and function of these textile objects are born from the Dutch colonization of Indonesia. Something as innocuous as a lace doily can be steeped in colonial history and contribute to the craft of empire.

In Progress, Filet Crochet lace
In Progress, Filet Crochet pattern