JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale color photographs, framed in white with no mats, and hung in the two room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints made between 2010 and 2012. The images on view come in three sizes, with corresponding edition sizes. The smallest size ranges from 24×24 to 25×34 (or reverse) and is available in editions of 25. The medium size ranges 36×36 to 36×50 (or reverse) and is available in editions of 10. And the largest size ranges from 44×44 to 44×59 (or reverse) and is available in editions of 5; one image (Olive & Market Street) is also available in an extra large size of 60×80, also in an edition of 5. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Julie Blackmon’s newest photographs continue her exploration of the intersection of 21st century domestic life and the painterly nuances of the staged tableaux format. Mixing brightened, colorful, digitally-crisp hyper-reality and carefully choreographed scenes featuring families and children, her images have evolved an instantly recognizable signature look, placing the viewer in a stylized world that feels both obviously constructed and plausibly familiar. It’s as if the action has been frozen for just a split second, offering us a heightened sense of all the competing activity that is swirling around.
A handful of earlier photographs by Blackmon played with references to the chaotic interiors of the Dutch Renaissance painter Jan Steen, but aside from a sharpie incident on the living room couch and a mother’s book club (reading Fifty Shades of Grey), this group has generally moved outdoors. Most of the vignettes have multiple points of tension and compositions that draw the viewer’s eye around to interrelated details. A pack of boys in a grassy meadow shoots a shotgun at overhead birds while babies howl in the abandoned stroller and a picnic is left unattended. Mom lounges on the patio reading a magazine and eating from a giant bag of potato chips, while the baby wanders around and the barbecue fire flares up, rubber balls strewn all over, including on the roof. Prim girls in dresses tend babies near a nighttime fire, while rampaging young boys turn a hot dog on a stick into a flaming torch. And The Sound of Music playing on a makeshift backyard screen is the setting for various groups of popcorn eating kids and distracted babies on rumpled blankets.
Two of the newest images on display pay homage to the busy street scenes of Balthus, with multiple characters moving independently of each other. In Homegrown Food, a girl plays tennis against the wall with a red ball, a man smokes, and another carries a wooden plank, both the girl and the plank man echoes of figures in Balthus’ La Rue. In Olive & Market Street, a woman with a bag, a man walking away, a dog in the middle of the street, and even the closed in architecture of the surrounding buildings are all dead ringers for the setting in Balthus’ Le Passage du Commerce Saint-Andre. In both images, a composed painterly scene is transformed by Blackmon’s stylized photographic detail, melding manipulated “fact” and outright fiction with a nod to art history.
I think the best of Blackmon’s work combines this multiple points of entry, all-over composition style with an underlayer of wry wit and knowing parental humor. When you’re nodding your head in silent recognition at some exaggerated moment or arcane visual reference in her jarringly unreal world, you know she’s got you.
Collector’s POV: The works in the show are priced by size and place in the edition. The smallest works are priced at $3100 or $3500, the medium sized works are either $4500 or $5000, and the large works are either $7500 or $7900. The single extra large print is $12000, as are two medium sized AP prints from already sold out editions. Blackmon’s work has recently begun to enter the secondary markets, but not enough lots have sold to chart much of a pricing pattern. As such, gallery retail is still likely the best option for those collectors interested in following up.