On Wednesday we learned of the evacuations due to hurricane Matthew. Faced with loosing studio work time, proposals in midstream, meetings delayed, and a new blog to upload, I decided to attempt work from my sister’s home in Marietta. I added the Atlanta Print Center to my list of travel destinations, and a visit to the Sandler Hudson Gallery. Finally, I planned to visit the studio of the artist Lillian Blades, an artist who I met years ago during my early years of teaching. Later I developed an admiration for her work while we shared showing at Sandler Hudson. I contacted her, she informed me of her exhibition at the September Gray Gallery where she was also giving a talk moderated by curator, artist, philanthropist, and art connoisseur, Joe Barry Carroll. With my plan set, I now share my visit with you.
In this post, Artist to Artist, I make a correlation between Blades work and connections to assemblage. Specifically, in the Constructive works post World War II, Dada and Surrealism , made by artists Kurt Schwitters, Vladimir Tatlin, and Piet Mondrian. The Dada period introduced freedom from content, thought to lead to war, the short lived Dada period, followed by Surrealism, enabled artists to concentrate purely on formalist concerns. African American artists like Romeare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Lois Malou Jones working just after, used assemblage to create with limited reference to the European tradition. As European artists like Pablo Picasso and Jean Arp borrowed visual clues from African imagery, so too did African American artists return to the concept of visual freedoms in art making. The work of Lillian Blades follows in context.
Working in the format of painting, Blades creates assemblages on wood panels. Within the plane she combines fractions of shapes and variations of color to symbolically reference connections to family, time, tradition, and space. She makes psychological connections to each element, the use of PVC pipes for her father, a plumber, buttons refer to her adoptive mother, a seamstress. Other symbolic references include picture frames, shells, angels, paint brushes, picture frames, fragments of wood, molded glass, and mirrors. Although each element has personal connections, they also register with the viewer and the evidence of labored embellishment helps to make these associations while deconstructing her past.
An encounter with the work requires the viewer to visually order linear, rectilinear, and curved forms that fluctuate forward and back, up and down. Often using a white background, parts of the work recede into the gallery wall, in this we are reminded of Mondrian’s use of the white as a spatial device. Objects intertwine under layers arranged with elements systematically adhering them with a mosaic adhesive that replicates the look of water Blades has mastered making movement within the stagnate format. Blades also does this by creating color evolution similar to the way landscapes move from ground to sky, as in the image “Sand and Sky”. Colors are also arranged to move from dark to light, Blades is visually organizing intensely chromatic alongside tinted and achromatic hues to visually dictate the movement of the image.
In Blades' work the use of light is multiplied in meaning and in execution. In the image titled “Otito”, Blades makes reference to the Yoruba word, meaning reflection. For as the viewer looks at the work, they are reflected in the work, thus the viewer becomes part of the piece. Traditionally mirrors were used to reflect and frighten evil spirits, in this work reflection of the viewer welcomes and makes the viewer part of the work. Blades uses rectilinear slivers of mirrors to reflect light and create a shimmering effects. The mirrors also create movement, as the pieces reflect the movement of the audience, the work inevitably moves itself. Mirrors also create a shimmering of light, just as tiny glimmers of light are reflected in water. Just steps away at the King Memorial, one can gaze into a shimmering pool of water, this reflects upon youthful memory of sand and sea. We travel through the works as one walking the beach gathering memories as we go.
Blades created a cacophony of images reminding the viewer not only of the sights imbued in the pieces, but sounds. Viewers are reminded of the vibrations of Soca music, with its underlying currents of cowbells, steel drums, whistles, idiophone and calypso replicate the feeling of Junkanoo and Odundu. There is no mistaking the relationship to the celebration of carnival. When asked about the future, Blades discussed moving toward suspending the pieces and referenced beaded curtains. A desire to combine movement created by densely multiplied patterns, linear and rectilinear interspersion of shape.
Blades is clearly influenced by the African imagery found in Yoruba sculpture. The necessity to create reminiscent to artisans of ancient Africa. However, this work is much like a process found in many artists of color, such as Bette and Allison Saar, Leonardo Drew and Nick Cave who are working to resolve issues of locating and connecting, present to past, place and time.
For more information about the exhibition at September Gray Gallery visit:
For addition information on Lilian Blades work:
Additional information about Lillian Blades exhibit see a great article:
For information on Joe Barry Carroll see: