Dike Blair, Drawings
Like most everybody, my early art-making involved drawing with crayons. Then, like many who later become artists, my ability to render recognizable things allowed me to be considered an “artist” by my peers, a role that interested me. I remember doing drawings of Oscar Robertson (NBA star) and the Green Lantern (superhero). My first watercolor-and-pencil drawing was of a mug of beer sitting on a bar with a wooden beer keg in the background. Eleven-year-old me thought it a highly sophisticated subject, and I realize my subjects haven’t evolved much since then. Twelve-year-old me made money at summer camp drawing knockoffs of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s monsters driving hot rods, like Mother’s Worry, on my campmates’ T-shirts. Thirteen-year-old me moved on to drawing naked women on campmates’ pillowcases. My knowledge of naked women was very limited so I sourced my figures from the swimsuit page of Betty and Veronica (an Archie Comics book), and hazarded guesses about the placement of nipples on breasts. Later I would make expressionistic sketches from black-and-white photographs with sources like Cartier-Bresson portraits or hippie bands from their album covers. I drew through my college years, then, roughly coinciding with becoming a professional artist, I stopped drawing except for plans to visualize sculptural constructions and the occasional sketch when vacationing.
I’ve never been happy about not drawing. Every couple of years for the last three decades or so, I’ve gone to the art supply store, bought drawing pads or paper, charcoal, carbon pencils, graphite, erasers, and shading stumps, laid all of this on the table before me, and then drawn a blank. I’d do a few halfhearted squiggles, and then everything would go on a shelf. A little over a year ago, I was arranging to do a studio visit with an artist and he asked if I did drawings, because he’d be happy to trade drawings. I really wanted one of this artist’s pieces, so went out and bought paper, etc., and immediately did a rough, relatively quick drawing of an ashtray, an image I’d rendered in both gouache and oil paint. It felt as if something had been recovered or released. I allowed myself to be sloppy and fast. I mixed mediums with little thought: charcoal, water, gouache, oil, and white chalk. I realized that in paying no attention to precision, something I care about with gouache and oil, I found a different new/old pleasure in making. I’d significantly lessened my invested labor, including searching for subject matter. Rather than figuring new subject matter for the drawings, I simply used images already used, or ones I’d been considering for paintings. While this approach to subject matter should have been obvious to me all along, it hadn’t been. I found that drawing images I was very familiar with from already having painted them made the drawing more effortless and free. More recently and more traditionally, I’ve been drawing subjects in advance of painting them. I get to familiarize myself with the subtleties of an image, especially in learning the value scales in black and white before employing color. I guess this is why artists have been using precisely this approach for centuries. Duh.
For more than 30 years, Dike Blair (*1952, New Castle, Pennsylvania) has captured fragmentary atmospheres and moments of the world around us in gouaches, oil paintings, installations, and drawings, whose subjects he finds in the invisible moments of daily life. Captured in numerous strokes and layers of paint and pastel, using objects such as cups, glasses, or windows and partial views of rooms, his works confront us with a familiarity of things whose level of detail evokes an unreal presence.
Created in New York beginning in the early 1980s, Blair’s works are painted snapshots of an environment that is familiar in its basic features, in which the objects from daily life show an inherent precision through their depiction. As likenesses of an existing reality, the gouaches and oil paintings are based on Blair’s photographs, whose documentary quality is inscribed in these in some cases photorealistic works.
In the American artist’s third gallery exhibition, the 24 drawings in charcoal, gouache, and gesso—in whose black-and-white contrast a red bucket stands out, as do the refracted light in an almost empty water glass or the only vaguely recognizable contours of a hydrangea in the darkness of a nighttime scene—direct our gaze to the surface. In Blair’s new works, these surfaces attest to a newly found immediacy, which emerges from the directness of the medium of drawing, whose structure causes things from our daily life to enter into a relationship with their environment.
This dialogue points to us as well as the creative process of the drawings, and—as Blair describes—is based on the familiar subjects of his earlier works. In this respect, Blair’s drawings are intimate portraits—portraits of himself and ourselves, bearing the traces of our own habits, which give us insight into the lives of things, and into a world in which the subtle nuances of their details declare themselves the main subject and invite us to linger in the freedom of the drawings.
Philipp Fernandes do Brito