A blend of whimsical and regimented, Gregory Blackstock’s art appears as lists of figures, similar to scientific illustrations found in biology books. But his subjects span topics ranging from plants and piranhas to buildings and Disney characters. Some of the drawings have comical descriptions that belie their titles, such as one called “Monsters of the Deep,” where a whale shark is captioned as “harmless” and “dines only on plankton.”
“He’s always had a desire to organize the world — to make order out of chaos,” said Jim Wilcox, co-owner of Greg Kucera Gallery.
Opened on June 3, Blackstock’s exhibit of limited-edition prints will be on display until July 10 at the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Representing Blackstock’s body of work produced from the 1980s to 2019, the exhibit, “The Incomplete Historical World, Parts I, II & III,” features categories of man-made items, as well as taxonomies of animals and insects. The exhibit may be Blackstock’s final one with new work.
Born in Seattle in 1946, Blackstock was originally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and was sent to a boarding school as an adolescent for several years. While Blackstock was never officially diagnosed, his family now believes that he has autism spectrum disorder with savant skills — a developmental condition that presents challenges in social interaction and communication, and in Blackstock’s case, imparts him with extraordinary talents. Along with drawing, he also enjoys playing the accordion, and has a rudimentary understanding of about 12 languages.
Blackstock’s artistic process begins with a subject that he will meticulously research at the library, along with font types that correspond to the topic. The title for his encyclopedic drawings of châteaus, for instance, was written in a gothic script.
“He’s like all artists. You appreciate the way that they approach an idea, and he’s no different,” Wilcox said.
While he was a dishwasher at the Washington Athletic Club, Blackstock drew pictures for the club’s newsletter. He would send his artwork to a long list of family and friends, including his cousin, Dorothy Frisch. Impressed by his work, Frisch arranged his first exhibit in Seattle at Garde Rail Gallery in February 2004. His art soon developed a following, and has provided a living for him for over two decades. Frisch thinks he has made at least 380 drawings throughout the years.
He draws inspiration from whatever strikes his interest, and is particularly fascinated with sounds. But Blackstock doesn’t follow other artists’ work, and has declined Frisch’s invitations to visit other exhibits. “He always says, ‘I like mine best,’ ” Frisch said.
Blackstock now lives in an adult family home in Lacey, where he is close to Frisch. She said that he enjoys writing his signature on prints, although that has recently become taxing for him. Due to arthritis and cognitive decline, Blackstock has not drawn in over a year, and Frisch does not foresee him returning to his artwork. The cognitive decline, along with hearing loss, has prevented him from participating in interviews.
Still, he is finding ways to connect with others, whether it’s sharing a song or reciting the lines from a movie he enjoyed. Recently, Frisch had an epiphany that one of Blackstock’s driving forces in life is to entertain people.
“He wants to bring joy to other people; he simply does not know what people find joyful. So he does what he finds joyful, and offers it.”
It is his way of reaching out to people and bringing them into his world. “But it’s on his own terms,” she said.