This is Gregory Blackstock’s first show with Greg Kucera, but his sixth solo exhibition in Seattle in eight years, and it would not be too much to claim this self-taught 66-year-old as something of a living civic treasure — an Audubon for our time and place.
Blackstock’s art, much like the great naturalist’s, is founded on detailed observation, comparison and categorization, but whereas Audubon was able to occupy himself for years with his monumental “Birds of America” project, Blackstock reflects the contemporary world’s demand that we make sense of many unrelated things at once.
Thus in his spectacular current show, Blackstock turns his attention to jays, rhododendrons, Irish joys, speedboats, Christmas lights and flags, among many other things, and perhaps most entertainingly to “Our Great American National Parks’ Government Major Safety Law Signs (2012).” In this 4-foot-high drawing, he juxtaposes carefully transcribed warnings from all over the Northwest, Yellowstone, and even further afield: “DANGER. SHEER CLIFF. KEEP OUT” reads the first, which is followed by an “ELK WARNING”, a “WASP WARNING” and an illustrated reminder that “FALLS CAN KILL YOU.”
Bears, boat docks, snowfields, mountain trails, riptides, firearms, mountain trails, and even volcano fumes crowd in around us in an account of recreational America that might, in the hands of another artist, be horrific. But there is at the heart of Blackstock’s work a celebratory delight, no matter how unlikely the subject matter.
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“Insect Pest Classifications Presents THE MAJOR WORLD TROUBLEMAKER MOTHS” is inscribed across the top of one drawing and, like many of Blackstock’s titles, it has more than a hint of a showbiz intro, which is entirely appropriate to work that is so unabashedly cheerful. For an audience in this part of the world, this has a further, decidedly inclusive aspect to it. When his subjects have any degree of local relevance, his titles will declare them “Our Own Great Irish Joys” (2007) or “Our Own Local Northwest Holiday Novelties” (2010). It renders them gleeful and irresistible.
Almost every account of Blackstock’s work will call him an “autistic — or artistic, or prodigious — savant.” He is then sometimes dubbed an “outsider artist.” If you are going to approach this show with that in your mind, please don’t make it any sort of apology or excuse.
The word “prodigious” fairly reflects the rate of his output, the intensity of his vision and the range of his talents but to assign him some peculiar status apart from other artists is a profound mistake. Gregory Blackstock is one of our city’s greatest artists; it’s as simple as that.
Robert Ayers: email@example.com