Blackerton’s work makes its home at a strange crossroads. On the one hand, it’s unusually good-natured – and yet it has an oddness, an evasiveness which makes it difficult to categorize. It’s like a friendly critter of folklore and urban legend, climbing from the sagebrush to look you over before moving on: herbivorous, cheery, but nonethless fundamentally alien.
I sat down with Blackerton to talk about color and other good things.
EA: I’m very excited to be working with you, mostly because I’m excited to spend so much time looking at your work. Your colors seem to come from a 23rd century Versailles. They make my eyes buzz. Tell me a little bit about your color philosophy.
B: For a number of years I worked mostly with blacks and grays: typography, line drawings, ink washes, black and white photographs. I’ve had enough of black. Now I want only color. I don’t own single tube of black paint. I don’t even own a black ink ballpoint pen. Call it a prismatic reaction.
EA: A couple of your series work with ancient sculptural imagery. [These ancient sculptures], as they survive today, are stone-hued, sand-hued. How did you come to reimagine them in this rainbow palette? Did the forms themselves suggest it, or …?
B: [My] Cycladic figures were done in earth tones when I was looking only at the modeling (later I used a stylized two-dimensional Cycladic as a handy pattern to look at color interactions). When I did a modeling study that used a series of Nandi profiles that were in every other way nearly identical, I varied the colors just to keep from going nuts. The colors were a secondary consideration that impolitely pushed its way to the front.
EA: Okay, then let me ask about the Wall [of Nandi] specifically. That’s a lot of repetition, and while the effect is undeniable I have to wonder why you would do that to yourself. So: why? I thought right away of [Francis Alÿs’] Fabiola, and then of milagros walls.
B: I was thinking about Albers’ Homage to the Square series and how interesting it would be to play various colors off each other, see how they got along. And I was really taken with a 9th century Cambodian statue of Shiva’s Bull, Nandi, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It’s so sedate and at the same time so powerful. So I used that as my shape instead of a square. The main downside was not being able bring Nandi home to serve as my model. I had to work from photos and sketches. It’s better to interpret shapes in three dimensions and to have control of the lighting. That’s why I decided to make my own statuettes for another series.
EA: So you created the maquettes in order to control their lighting. Would you characterize the statuette series as a light study?
B: Well, I guess so, but I think it’s best to leave the characterizing to the viewer. It’s not my job, so to speak. To answer the question, though, I’d say they aren’t so much light studies as exercises in form as hinted at by gradation.
The actual effect of the light on the white or brown clay of the maquettes is not even attempted here. The colors are imaginary, fantastic. Even the textures are ignored or incorporated as suits my main interest, which I’d describe (if I had to) as shapiness or dimensionality. Or more specifically, the experience of shape. That is, I want to get across the pleasure of manipulating the clay into a recognizable form. The light and shadow are only a means to get that feel of shape. The response to the painting that would gratify me most would be if the viewer were moved to run out to buy some Play-Doh and start making little clay frogs or something.
EA: I love that. I do feel like making little clay frogs. I mean, I feel that way regardless, but … While we’re talking about viewer experience – what would you say is the ideal context in which to encounter your work? Interpret that however seems best; I could be asking about installation context, about the viewer’s own body state …
B: The ideal context, or posture anyhow, for viewing art is sitting. I get so weary standing in galleries. Also footsore. Even better would be reclining, which I can vouch for from experience since I have a lot of paintings in my bedroom. During an “Ask the Curator” day on Twitter I wondered in a tweet if any museum had considered flooding the galleries so visitors could lazily view artwork from floating gondolas as in a Disneyland “dark ride.” I was only joking (sort of) but one curator answered that the humidity would be bad for many paintings.
As for my own paintings, they strut their stuff to best effect in either a bright, sunny room or, at the other extreme, in a very dark room with a pin spot. They’re Californians after all.
EA: Name five good things.
B: Five good things? Bookstores, especially ones serving coffee. All wristwatches. Most clouds. Many mugs. Blimps.