Colleen Blackard Q&A

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Colleen Blackard, “Wake,” 2010, Ballpoint pen ink on paper, 16 x 20 inches

How did your interest in making art begin?
It was when I was very young. My mother worked at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, she was an art restorer. She always encouraged me to pursue my passions, pursue my drawing. She also taught me perspective at a very young age. I remember that moment—like when you’re learning how to read and it suddenly just makes sense.

What were your experiences like studying drawing in school at Hampshire College?
I think it’s a funny thing that I ended up at Hampshire because I pursued a fairly academically rigorous education in high school. Most of my friends were going to places like Yale and I went to this hippy college and ended up with the confidence that art was a career to pursue. I focused on drawing, but it was interdisciplinary so I also focused on art history and specific components, really getting to know them, to develop my own language. That was in my senior year. With the encouragement of my professors, they told me, “We love your charcoals, but why don’t you build up these blacks in ball point pen?” And my mother, working in restoration, was like, “No, don’t!” But it ended up resonating with me… and I work with a Parker pen, which is archival, so she’s happy!
It really helped me to develop a language with drawing, especially with the circles, I’ve worked with that ever since. Circles are in everything. My compositions started with stars and space, and then moved to nature and down to Earth, cities, and then people—just everything. It’s infinite.

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Colleen Blackard, “Jackie: Homage to Warhol,” 2012, Ballpoint pen ink on paper, 8 x 11 inches

Yeah, looking at your works, I’m interested in the kind of looping, circular technique. Do you make studies for them before you do a final version?
I do, especially for the larger works. For works like “Wake,” I was doing a lot of studies of water. I was at a residency upstate, spending a lot of time near water and just drawing the lake, and then I kind of figured out a pattern to tessellate and expand upon, drawing the light within it.

Do your portraits feel like a different process than more natural subject matter?
It was interesting translating the technique to portraiture but it seemed to work. Like for “Jackie: Homage to Warhol,” I was looking at Andy Warhol’s prints. I was trying to get that same texture but build it up in a meticulous, circular way. For the series of portraits I did of my uncle, I was really developing what is important to me and my work. “William (Close-Up)” is of my uncle who had Down’s syndrome; he was a really fantastic subject because he’s so photogenic. I did a whole series based on photographs that my dad took of him in the 70s. It was just bringing me back to my art and sharing the light of my uncle.

What is your process like making the works? When do you work best?
Usually in a body of work when I’m working on an idea, I like to set aside time for just one piece and really get into it. So with the current large-scale drawing I’m doing, it’s all I’ve been working on for a few months. I’ve done quite a few studies, too, tiny ballpoint drawings and ink sketches. My best hours are at night, like a lot of artists; it’s easier to get going when the world is quiet, with a lot of space. I try to keep it regular but it’s whenever I can fit in the time and get to my studio.

Would you say you’re still attracted to a lot of the same things as you were when you first began being interested in art or has it changed?
I think it’s the same. I’ve always been interested in light in artwork. I remember when my mother’s lab was working on Fredric Church’s “The Icebergs.” There’s a moment in that painting where it’s like you’re submerged within this icy, watery depth. That light just really grabbed me, so a lot of my work has been focused on that kind of deep light and space. What I do is always about the light within a subject. And the circle technique I’ve developed is also a kind of expansive, spiritual thing for me as well. In all of my work the circles and light will stay, but the subject will change.

Are there any references that you think about that inspire your work, or that drew you to making art in the way you do?
There are so many. I love the Impressionists, the way they would describe nature; they were very free. I’m captivated by light and space, so naturally I gravitated to Vija Celmins, whose meticulous drawings and etchings of stars, oceans, and spider webs really speak to me. I also love how personal her work is, full of longing for her far away family. I love Julie Mehretu’s work; the language she’s building with lines is really fascinating, all within their own universe. Also the light art artists, too, like James Turrell; how he can transform the world you’re in just with light and create form and depth. I’m inspired by Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s shadow sculptures, how they transform a pile of trash into delicate forms, just with light and shadow!

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Colleen Blackard, “South Ferry + Whitehall Subway Stop,” 2012, Ballpoint pen ink on paper, 5 x 7 inches

Have you done other experiments with medium or size? What are you working on now?
I stayed with the ballpoint for a very long time—for five years, to just hone in on my technique, to understand the light and develop the gradients. I have traditional education in oil painting; some experience in sculpture. I do want to branch out, but this was sort of the natural direction. I’ve wanted to work bigger; I’ve done some ballpoint drawings that are three feet by four feet, and they take quite a while. So when I wanted to try in the five-to-ten foot range, it would take… at least a year to complete one piece. I decided to start with marker at a very particular moment when I was doing a live drawing. I had only an hour to create a 16-by-20 inch piece, and that kind of pushed me out of my comfort zone. I chose to do it in Sharpie. It was kind of the push I needed to get into the new medium with marker. I’ve also done ink washes, with Sumi ink, and I’m now moving into color a little bit, using blues. The piece I’m working on now is 10-by-8 feet, and it’s going to be a large infinite night sky. I’ve been developing the very tiny to medium size with ballpoint, and now to be surrounded by it is a cool experience; and to develop myself as an artist in a looser, more expressive medium. It’s exciting.

Upcoming Shows
“Drawers Drawing”
Curated by Alison Pierz
October 8–November 5, 2015
Galerie Protégé

A collaborative exhibit between Japanese artist Genichi Watanabe and NYC artists, organized by Reno Oka and ISSO Gallery (Tokyo)
December 1–December 26, 2015
Pleiades Gallery