JTF (just the facts): A total of 22 photographs and photographic sculptures, variously framed, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space, the lower level gallery, the stairwell, and the entryway. The 19 color photographs are dye sublimation prints on aluminum, made between 2016 and 2020. Physical sizes range from roughly 16×20 to 59×69 inches (or the reverse), and the prints are generally available in editions of 3+2AP or are unique. The show also includes 3 photographic sculptures made from dye sublimation prints on aluminum, book cloth, and motorized turntable displays, made in 2020. These works are roughly sized 14x23x23 inches and are unique. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: In the roughly two decades since photography was conquered by digital technologies and image processing software, we have become increasingly accepting of subtleties of everyday photographic manipulation. We now routinely use apps to saturate colors and apply different filters, and more sophisticated practitioners have been cleaning up, removing, smoothing, and reshaping photographs so pervasively in recent years that we are now increasingly expecting pictures to have a perfected look and feel. It seems that the more seamlessly these tweaks and “improvements” are incorporated, the more willing we are becoming to accept them as a version of reality.
But when photographic manipulations are deliberately visible or intentionally awkward, aside from pointing out the obvious, we still haven’t yet developed a nuanced vocabulary for interpreting these kinds of aesthetic decisions – when something looks like a “mistake” but is clearly purposeful, a dissonance is created that we don’t really know how to process.
Lucas Blalock has been experimenting with facets of this visual dissonance for most of his artistic career. In the 2000s, he was one of the first to overtly embrace manipulation, centering his image making on probing how it could be thoughtfully used to undermine clarity, to generate disruption, and to introduce alternate modes of visual communication. In the years since, he has iteratively explored brash digital mark making, layered image reuse, conspicuous digital cutting and pasting, and other largely studio-based experiments and computer-driven digital constructions. This current show of new work finds him in transition, updating and evolving some of the ideas from his last New York solo gallery show in 2016 (reviewed here), while also opening up several new pathways for exploration.
The show begins with a series of interruptions. Black musical notes inexplicably float in an outdoor swimming pool, pink, vaguely phallic blobs with black dot faces lounge in the sun, and inflamed nails protrude from above a doorway, and in each case, Blalock has intervened to reorient and upend an otherwise mundane view, almost with a nonsense kind of visual humor. These are followed by several works dominated by digital marks on the “surface”, from tiny hairs added to an image of a foam brace to a picture of a ceramic dog obscured by a chaotic mess of digital scrapes, scratches, and smudges. As a prelude, these and other works offer a continuation from Blalock’s photographs of the past decade, with similar ideas of calculated intrusion and disturbance playing out in new ways.
While confusing intervention certainly has its place in jolting us into attentiveness or recalibrating the direction or mood of an image, many of Blalock’s new works use subtler forms of manipulation to draw us in closer. Images of a light dappled green sweater and dirty brown shag carpeting revel in all-over uncertainty, where visual echoes, undulations, and textural details seem to repeat and oscillate, never quite settling into a state of calm. An image of two replica fish heads eating each other underneath a drape of netting is similarly uneasy, the shadows dissolving into sprayed approximations and digitally hole punched circles of reused scales and paint. And an image of an “is it done yet” test strand of pasta thrown against a wall leaves us wrong footed once again, the seemingly unmanipulated setup finding its way to a quiet form of unlikely elegance.
Downstairs, Blalock momentarily moves away from digital manipulation to experiment with photographic simultaneity. In two works, he uses a technique originally invented in the 1890s (the “multigraph”) where two mirrors are arranged to intersect at an angle of roughly 70 degrees, creating four reflections of an object placed in front of the set up. Blalock alternately places a ceramic squirrel figurine and a vinyl dog toy turned inside out into this mirrored arrangement, making photographs that seem to see the object from five sides at once. He tries something related but different with spinning turntables of imagery that offer various rotating vantage points of the same object (a potato, the artist’s head, a fish placed atop a can of sparkling water.) In both efforts, Blalock seems to be connecting back to artists like Barbara Probst and the complexities and uncertainties of coincident perspectives (and the resulting lack of one “truthful” photograph of any moment.) Given our usual state of disbelief with what Blalock presents us in his photographs, the addition of optical trickery to his artistic toolbox seems natural, and likely liberating.
The best of Blalock’s photographs leave us with a sense of visual tension that refuses to resolve – we inherently want the image to coalesce in some way but it deliberately stops at a point of static. That jittery, frustrating, unsolved puzzle aspect of these pictures has become a kind of artistic signature for Blalock. He’s speaking to us in the common language of paint-program manipulation and low culture comfort, and then actively using those familiarities against us, often with a subtle wink. By deconstructing digital photography in ways few others are trying, he’s methodically pulling apart our nascent visual vocabulary, using both cutting wit and sophisticated photographic awareness to undermine our urge to find the simplest answer. That his pictures often defeat our ability to make them feel easy and consumable is evidence that he’s consistently finding the point of fracture. This show feels like a lot of ideas (both old and new) thrown into one large mixer, that restlessness perhaps an advantage in the ongoing search for new forms of instability.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $5000 and $20000 based on size, while the sculptures are either $5000 or $5500. Blalock’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.