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Teaching with New York Close Up: Lucas Blalock’s 99¢ Store Still Lifes

Lucas Blalock, untitled (crystalline screw), 2009

This post originally appeared on the Art21 Blog in the weekly column, Teaching with Contemporary Art.

Lucas Blalock’s only plan is to work… preferably in the evenings. He deals with a set of parameters that his tools provide and brings things he purchases at local discount stores into his apartment. From there it’s open season.

In a world filled with artists that create work in a myriad of settings, Lucas Blalock’s situation is fairly similar to the scenario many of our own students face- working at home and trying to hold down a full-time job (or a full-time class schedule) while attempting to make art in between. And while Blalock often creates art with objects he purchases and photographs, right in the living room of his apartment in Williamsburg, his process is quite unlike many of the students we work with.

In Lucas Blalock’s 99¢ Store Still Lifes the artist talks about discovering and creating visual problems in order to solve them vs. starting with an idea and finding a way to photograph it. Blalock comes at making art from somewhat of an opposite angle than what we may be used to, and certainly opposite of someone such as Paolo Ventura. Instead of following through on plans to photograph particular objects in certain ways, he allows himself to be attracted to different things… and then finds a way to solve the problem of making this thing interesting to a viewer, as well as himself:

Sometimes an object will really give me a simple problem to deal with. Other times it’s much more of a kind of flirtation with the objects in the studio that something gets pulled out of it.

There’s a big part of me that can see educators feasting on a short film like this (it runs about 6 minutes) because it shares examples of things that ARE working for Blalock and also finds time to share what happens when things AREN’T working. For example, towards the end of the segment, we see the artist wrestle (literally, physically) with trying to photograph some multicolored foam he brought into the studio. While obviously excited to use this material at the start, Blalock quickly becomes frustrated with it and decides to wait on trying to capture this particular subject matter. The inspiration may have been there, but the material wasn’t “doing” anything to impress him. Instead of forcing the issue, he simply remarks that he may have to hold the foam in the studio for a while before deciding how to work with it. He doesn’t throw it away. He doesn’t have a fit and trash the joint. He simply decides to wait.

Lucas Blalock’s 99¢ Store Still Lifes is an inspiring piece for teachers and students alike because it also illustrates how one can create a complex and stimulating context for making beautiful works of art in a simple space. But Blalock makes sure we understand it’s not easy. For every 20-25 photographs he takes and develops using his large format camera each week, only one or two “really work”. He goes on to explain that the most successful pictures are ones that “don’t fall into a category”. Perhaps an easy label means the work isn’t complex enough? Regardless, here’s to steering clear of categories.

Check out New York Close Up and please be sure to share any artists you are planning on working with… in and out of the classroom! See you next week.

ABOVE: Lucas Blalock. Untitled (Crystalline Screw), 2009. Chromogenic print, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy the artist.

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