Our Weekly Spotlight on the Arts is shining brightly on John Michael Ballard!
We selected John to be featured after seeing a series of his handcrafted postcards on Instagram.
Please. Stay. In extra-large capital letters. Printed, drying, and waiting to be pressed were these cards on the screen, boldly reaching out with a mysterious message to deliver, yet simultaneously and silently reeling us in to learn more…
These two simple words, imprinted on 4×6 cardstock, spoke to us in a language all of their own, in a dialect of imperfect shades and streaks of blue and white on a backdrop of beige.
A collection of comments further uttered a mix of musings, intertwined in a unique twist of thoughts to further tell the story:
#streetart, #mentalhealthawareness, #graffitiart, #suicideprevention, #linocut, #towriteloveonherarms
We reached out right away to learn more both about these cards, the artist behind their creation, and the story that led them to be. Grab your box of tissues as we take you on a journey which may include the shedding of a tear or two towards the end…but first let’s start from the beginning…
John first learned about linoleum printing when he was about 15 years old as a member of a special arts program in Connecticut, an exciting chapter in his life where he could experience different forms and materials, including jewelry-making, clay and pottery, photography, and many other mediums.
His perspective has been very “DIY” (do it yourself), as he has wanted to show that anyone can use their voice and without fancy or expensive materials. Street-art and graffiti from all over the world have also long been part of his artistic inspirations.
Mr. Ballard’s art embodies not only his own perspectives but those of others as well, as he has diligently tried to draw attention to social awareness and related causes as well as grassroots activism.
One of these most important causes has been suicide prevention, as well as mental health awareness, both for John and equally for his wife, Angelica. Sadly, several years ago they lost their son Hugo to suicide when he was just 13 years old and a middle school student at the time.
A soulful statement from John Michael was provided to us as: “We’ve been through one of the most excruciating things a parent ever has to face, and I don’t want any other family to have to experience that, if I can help it. The Please. Stay. cards were done to commemorate my son’s birthday, and the beginning of Suicide Prevention Month. They are a tribute to Hugo.”
John continued to state that a simple few words such as “I miss you” or “I was thinking of you today” can be the difference between someone taking the next, irrevocable and devastating step or stopping and reframing their state of mind. He explained that the cost is literally nothing to let someone know that you care and “Please. Stay.” is what he would have said to Hugo if he could go back in time and reach out in those crucial moments.
Our featured artist and his wife (also an artist) spend time volunteering in several different ways from working at local food pantries and soup kitchens to face-painting for the St. Mary’s Hospice Festival of Trees. Both are driven by a love for our area and strong desires to help others in whichever way that they can.
Shine on John Michael, thank you for sharing your many talents and for your contributions to our community! See John’s work and learn more about his expanding postcard series on Instagram @guerrilla.tet.
Other links of interest:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Maryland’s Helpline – 24/7 to provide support, guidance, and assistance. Please call 211 and select option 1, text your zip code 898-211 or visit www.211MD.org to learn more. In the case of a life-threatening emergency call 911.
(Photos provided by artist).
(Submitted by St. Mary’s County Arts Council.)