The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Jerry Blackman, Artist

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Photograph of Jerry Blackman. Courtesy of Artists Wanted.
Jerry Blackman: Untitled, 2009, mirrored acrylic glass, MDF, polyurethane resin, pine, modeling epoxy, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery.

Jerry Blackman, who is a fellow NURTUREart Registry Artist, has become a rising star within the New York contemporary art world. With his humorous and iconographic sculptures and installations that explore the convergence between the handmade and the univeral, Blackman’s work leaves the viewer a rather strong impression upon the viewer’s crazy imagination.

I hope that you will have a chance to look at this artist’s new work which is being presented at a group show in Gavin Brown’s enterprises and his solo show “SUMMER SESSION” taking place at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery. I have been invited as a VIP artist and commentator to contextualize his challenging work and allow the viewer to marvel at these beautifully rendered objects for meaningful eyes as well as the process that leads to the final product.

If you have any questions about Blackman’s artwork, feel free to contact him at jerry@jerryblackman.com.

So on to the show and now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Jerry Blackman: Favorite artists include Paul McCarthy, Robert Gober, and Bruce Nauman. I’m also influenced by and take cues from David Altmejd, and Ugo Rondinone. I like Philip Roth’s books. This year I’ve been watching a lot of Lost and Celebrity Apprentice for some reason. The most recent exhibit I saw that really impressed me was Six Works, Six Rooms at David Zwirner. I’ve never seen work hung like that with so much breathing room. I felt the curators were simultaneously paying homage to these old works as art-historical artifacts and as agents in their very contemporary vision for the space.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York, particularly Brooklyn, where you are based out of or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Jerry Blackman: To be honest I don’t go out much. I like places with an old time feel: wooden bar, turn of the century Jazz playing. These places don’t really exist in New York but The Chelsea Hotel, Milk and Honey, and Freeman’s at least make it look like you’ve stepped into the past.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Jerry Blackman: It’s a difficult question and I’m not an economist. I assume that the young artists who didn’t have any money to begin with haven’t been that affected, and that the mega multi-million dollar artists still have plenty of resources to make their work comfortably. If collectors were hit the hardest then I guess everyone is going to relax for a little while, and there is going to be more room for up and coming artists to squeeze their way into a new art world where selling is such a rarity, people are focused primarily on other things. Jerry Saltz said in a lecture he gave recently that it’s like pressing a giant reset button, and the previously unbreakable wall of art stardom doesn’t even apply anymore- the entire landscape of how business is conducted is changing, and its anyone’s guess how it will turn out.

Some galleries and artists are going to try to maintain their current procedures, and basically wait it out till this whole thing blows over, (which it’s starting to). Other artistis and galleries might try to capitalize on this: I know that Lyons Weir Gallery is having an art fair-free-for-all for anyone that wants to show up and sell work. Basically I believe that collectors will have their eyes out for cheaper, younger artists, who inevitably will be doing more cutting edge and experimental things.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work that you pursue? With your personal interests, are your sculptures and installations reflective of those hobbies you engage in?

Jerry Blackman: I LOVE poker. I play poker twice a week and would play more if I wasn’t worried about becoming an addict. I’ve been wondering if there is any relationship between my poker playing and my studio practice, and the only one I could find is the element of psychological gamesmanship. The process of reducing and refining, either in poker situations or conceptual thinking, is linked to both practices. I’m a sort of tight player, and try to remain patient for the right opportunities: I think this correlates to how I try to reduce my work to its essential components and get rid of any superfluous elements. I’m not sure exactly how, but it’s more like a character trait thing than anything else. I would use the same words to describe myself either in the studio or at the poker table: grinding it out.

qi peng: As a graduate of the Cooper Union School of Art, what were those school years like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your work? Has your studio practices changed since graduating from the BFA program?

Jerry Blackman: Life at Cooper was hard. I wasn’t with the “in” crowd, but still maintained a rapport with everyone as much as possible. People were isolated from one another at Cooper, and the critiques would often turn into competitive, linguistic, and totally pointless circuses. I learned the most from one on one interactions with other students and teachers. My colleagues Aaron King, Kenny Komer, Boris Rasin, Alex Carver, Heidi Hahn and Scott Goodman stand out as people I respected very much. Now, there aren’t as many people just dropping by the studio to talk about work as there was in college. I’ve organized a crit- group where a few of us get together monthly and rap for a few hours on each other, but its not the same constant dialogue. The whole thing is much more disciplined and self- reliant for me now that I’m out of school. I’m in the studio more, and trying to not only make work, but also make a job out of being an artist.

qi peng: Lately you have been involved in a solo show “Summer Session” at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery during this summer. How did you find out about the call to entry for “Summer Session 101” hosted by Leah Stuhltrager, the director of the gallery? What was your reaction upon being selected as the artist for the gallery during the summer? What is like being integrated into the focus on process and the formalities of integrating studio work with a completed exhibition? What are the joys of this process? What are the challenges of this process? How do you plan to translate your fiercely personal vision for “Summer Session” for the final installation at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery?

Jerry Blackman: I found out about the show from an open call posting on the NurtureArt online bulletin board. My first reaction was “finally!”, because I have had some previous bad luck in getting accepted to similar things, and was elated that something had materialized in my favor. Though it’s not a solo show in the traditional sense, I understand what the curators and director are trying to do with the process and progress elements of the show. My contribution to this idea is to very easily and simply be me: make work and show it. The blog, the press, the organization of the show, the ideas swimming around are mostly on the gallery and curatorial side. In the end, it is still a gallery space for people to come in and look around, and I’m just going to have to trust that viewers are going to be interested enough in the concept of the show to stay a little longer and read through the printed material or online components. Presently, I am so on the periphery of the art world, that the “inner workings” which we are trying to expose are totally new to me, and I’ve left it to Leah to spearhead the operation from an informed point of view. I’m not sure that there is room for a “fiercely personal” vision: any reader of the blog will notice that this is a total collaboration. I can only make the sculpture that I want to make and install it in the space if we agree, together, that it belongs. It being a show about “progress” however, does liberate me to make mistakes I might have felt uncomfortable about otherwise. Also, its about ideas, so I don’t really need to spend the extra money making something really perfect- the implication of perfection should be adequate in this context. I hope that’s not a cop-out- we’ll have to see I suppose.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?

Jerry Blackman: Anything under $15 a meal is good enough for me. I’m always hungry, and money and time contribute to making that a severe nuisance. My soul needs other things beside food to feed it.

qi peng: What is the methodology behind your sculptures and installations from start to finish, from preparatory studies to the completed work? What types of materials and equipment do you use to create your final artwork? How do you determine which materials go into a particular object? Also what is an average day like within your studio?

Jerry Blackman: Everything starts with an idea that then gets put in the sketchbook. Usually, upon first entry, the ideas are loose, and are less about an actual object than they are an abstract thought. I’ll redraw this idea and different variations of it for a long time, trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with it. It’s usually several years after I put something on paper that I will start making an object. And more often than not, it’ll be a combination of two ideas that I find satisfying. For example, I’ll be juggling around the idea of a tension between the representational and non- representational. I’ll discover that the sequence of colors which render a rainbow satisfy both these descriptions- and I’ll understand THAT as a type of transcendence or self–referent. Now, I can take another idea I had about representation and non-representation in terms of cultural archetypes. Earlier I determined something like the assassination of JFK to be so mythologized, it doesn’t even exist as a historical event anymore, but more like a minimalist shape, like a cube. Combining these two resulted in a sculpture where the fatal bullet wound was rendered in rainbow light bulbs, articulating these ideas about representation and archetypes simultaneously.

Once I’ve decided on making an object, I’ll continue drawing it over and over in the book all the while making in the studio. I’m either trying to convince myself that I’m doing something right, or owning the object/ image completely.

I have a background in window display and museum figure building, so I know a lot about commercial materials, and how to make things durable an correctly. There may not be one perfect way to make something, but there are certainly a lot of incorrect ways which I’ve had to learn from. The more I make my own sculptures, the more comfortable I feel with certain processes and tend to repeat them, for example, I pretty much always use a silicone rubber mold and pour a quick setting liquid plastic into it. There are different romantic notions attached to different processes, and I have found casting in plastic to be very agreeable with me.

On any given day in the studio I’ll have a mental list of things I want to accomplish. Usually it’s one big step out of, say, ten, that I’ll want to do. On a good day I’ll start working around ten and continue through six or seven with a short lunch. If that day’s task happened to take shorter than expected, I’ll determine the next natural breaking point and work towards that. A lot of it also depends on material setting times: it’s always a good idea to make a mold last thing in the evening so that it’s ready to go in the morning.

qi peng: How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Facebook and MySpace to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of painting and photography and sculpture, more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes? Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the cliches of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human?

Jerry Blackman: I once heard a conversation where a similar question was asked and the answer suggested that perhaps in a hundred years, two hundred years, whenever- all that technology is going to be obsolete. Will web based art be able to be archival? Perhaps that’s off topic, but I do tend to gravitate towards concrete, tangible things. It’s also interesting that “new media” gets so much attention when music, film, and video have been THE medium of artistic expression that has reached the most people in America for the past hundred years. The most profound difference between the movies, video art, web- based work and “traditional media” is the static nature and objects’ ability to sit in a room. People will always want to live with art objects, they offer a different type of visual potential than a time based work. If “new media” art can critique “mainstream media” by assuming a like format, that is just a transient device the same way a painting surface can assume the behavior of a mainstream cultural surface. Critiquing culture has become so over practiced in the art world that that’s what we take to understand as revealing something profound about humanity. In fact, this is just the fifty year old ghost of Warhol still haunting us and keeping us convinced that mainstream cultural critique is an important endeavor. We really need to outgrow this myth.

qi peng: You are participating in a group show at Gavin Brown’s enterprise called “The Living and the Dead.” What is the story of your piece being incorporated into the show? How do you feel that your pieces fits into the goals and tenor of the group exhibition? From your perspective, what do you think that the term “the living and the dead” means in relation to your art?

Jerry Blackman: I’m not sure that this show has much of a goal. I think Gavin and the curator, Darren Bader, basically wanted to break the paradigm of the famous artist elite, and give something very special back to the people he associates with. Friends of the gallery and people who work there were invited. There is a narrative of generosity in hard economic times that I at least picked up on- and he is so non-chalant about the whole thing, I think there is something celebratory in his gesture. Celebrating the love of art, from all types of people, in the summer, in the midst of an economic melt down. The show succeeds in how eclectic it is, and each artist has just one piece, filling the space with just hints of personal stories and history.

“The Living and the Dead” does not really relate to me at all- it sounds cool I guess. Maybe established artists are “dead” for their niche in history has already been carved, and emerging artists are “living” with all the potential of a new world in front of them.

qi peng: Much of your sculptures and installations focus on the deconstruction of cultural archetypes ranging from the tin man of “The Wizard of Oz” in your piece “Untitled (Tin Man)” to the gaudy Florida flamingoes in your sculpture “Flamingoes.” What is the driving concept for your choice of cultural icons to deflate or alter its meaning(s)? How have viewers responded to this revised meaning of such iconography? What other ideas would you like to explore in your work?

Jerry Blackman: I’ve always viewed these icons as vehicles for a more personal meaning. The iconography was a way to communicate universally, and at the same time, reveal that my feelings and desires are unavoidably inflected by cultural surroundings. To speak through symbols infers a narrative of anonymity which I believe to be ironically linked to the building of identity. We are our desires. We are our culture. And these are things we do not necessarily have the ability to control or choose. I’ve felt that my earlier use of iconography was too specific, and am now trying to make the work less “American” or at least use symbols and subjects that are more open to the viewer’s own interpretation. There are a handful of artists who I would describe as “cultural anthropologists”, and it is really difficult to use iconography properly so that one does not make a commodity out of symbols, or get caught in the trap of having to systematically go through a lexicon of them.

qi peng: What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? Will these new artworks be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or a different direction instead?

Jerry Blackman: Everything I do in one way or another comes from the thing that came before it. Lately I’ve been constructing these impossible situations between the objects and the material that illustrate their illusory nature. I will be making more of these visual riddles all the while choosing subjects that I believe to be consistent with the ongoing themes of identity, sexuality, and the tension between representation and non- representation. After Summer Session I do not have any immediate plans for showing, but do look forward to relaxing after what will undoubtedly be a lot of work for the summer.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your sculptural and installation work and upcoming exhibitions here?

Jerry Blackman: Hmm. Keep checking out the blog and the gallery. It’ll constantly be changing with new work coming in and out.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

July 8, 2009 at 6:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi Jerry! Great interview

    Erin

    July 15, 2009 at 5:43 pm


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