Howdy interwebianz!

Here’s my first “artist profile” with my good friend Clovis Blackwell [CB].

LG: How do we know each other?

CB: We go way back Luke, we go back to San Francisco, to the Upper Room that Church group thing that we were doing. But what kinda cemented the friendship was us being able to talk about art ideas and stuff. You were working on your short film for school it was…

LG: “Coming To

CB: That’s it. The conversation that really strikes me was about the main character’s transformation in “Coming To.” It came when someone dropped a piece of fruit in his bag and he tried it. We were talking about what that fruit might be conveying. That was a really great rapport that we developed. Being able to discus things has been a really fun part of our friendship, being able to bounce ideas off of each other.

LG: Yeah Totally. When we met, what sort of art were you making?

CB: When we met, I had just graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute and I was making “box art,” kind of Joseph Cornell-style. After graduating I started working on an installation that I came to think of as a large “Cornell Box.” I think I titled that show Cedars. I was collecting a bunch of different materials and putting them in jars and bottles.

Cedars piece

CB: I made one small box out of those objects and the rest of the show was those objects filling the gallery space like the space was a box. That was a nice progression for me to move out of small objects into a larger space. I think that led to some of my more recent work.

Cedars

LG: So what is your more recent work? What have you been working on?

CB: I’ll go back to my last show, my show for my Master of Fine Arts. I made an installation where I hand-cast 200 action figures and set them up in battles on miniature terrain that I made. I had 4 tables that filled the gallery space; they looked like model train or war gaming landscapes. The figures were fighting on that. It was a sort of transition from my previous work.

Time of Trial - Gallery

LG: Because that work was installation based?

CB: Yeah, it hasn’t all been installation based, I do tend to play around with a lot of different media. The media that I choose needs to incorporate whatever theme that I’m thinking of in my work. It was important that they were action figures because it was thinking of the role of the Hero and taking it down to a toy, a commodity, a throw-away thing. Sort of parodying the idea of what a Hero is, but also moving past that idea and it was a lot about just having fun and playing, being playful.

LG: What was that show called?

The name of the show was Time of Trial and that came from a couple of things, from Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” which identifies The Road of Trials as the part of the heroic cycle where the Hero is in struggle, where it looks like he might not make it. Where he suffers. It’s in that moment where he learns something important. That’s where the transformation takes place.

LG: Like where Luke learns to trust The Force?

CB: Exactly where Luke learns to trust The Force. Down in that cave on Dagobah.

LG: Actually he’s in the Trench…

CB: I’m thinking of “Empire.” [The Empire Strikes Back] Let’s all just go to “Empire,” cause “Empire” is The Road of Trials. The whole movie is The Road of Trials. That’s where all the struggles happen; that’s where Han gets frozen, where you don’t know if they are going to make it. That’s where Luke learns the truth about his father, where he learns to actually become a Jedi, where Han and Leia began to fall in love. Everything happens in “Empire.” And the resolution comes in “Return [of the Jedi].”

LG: Let’s bring that back to Time of Trials.

CB: First, I should say what the action figures were, there were 100 Super Clovis action figures and 100 Anti Clovis action figures. The Hero and the Villain. It’s in their struggle and their fight, in MY struggle and my fight within myself that I found transformation. Part of that has to do with my experience with Rheumatoid Arthritis and learning to understand my own weakness. It also gets pretty Jungian dealing with the psyche and how one comes to terms with who one is. Which is exactly what that Heroic Journey is all about.

Time of Trial - Detail

LG: So did Time of Trials somehow inform or set you on the course for your current work?

CB: I’d gotten really fascinated with the apocalypse and trying to understand why I have felt an allure towards the “end of the world” and towards a post-apocalyptic future. I was starting to think about those things while I was working on Time of Trial. I was thinking about how I was influenced by movies, how these Hero stories filtered into my life and my way of thinking when I was a child. A lot of those were these post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies and I was thinking about the glamorous Hero, the survivor Hero. So the Hero is the connection.

I’ve been working on these Mushroom Cloud drawings and screen prints and thinking of making a series of miniature sculptures. I’m trying to take away the power and the fear from the Mushroom Clouds. I’m trying to make them pretty and seductive and kind of harmless. I want to make them really attractive because of what comes after the destruction, what comes after the death and suffering is this moment of new life, this moment of rebirth. You have death then you have life and resurrection. You have this transformation. You have the apocalypse, then you have the post-apocalypse. You have the survivors and society and the world rebuilding.

“untitled” | 11×14 | chinamarker on paper | 2010
Mushroom Cloud

That’s the fascination for me, that’s the connection to Time of Trial. Now I’m using the Mushroom Cloud as the moment of struggle in the Hero’s journey. I guess it’s kind of the same thing as what I was doing. I’m looking at the same thing, that moment of struggle but through a different lens. [laughs] It’s not a self portrait. [LG laughs] Most of my work has been self portrait for the last 8 or 10 years. I kind of wanted to get away from that and I am, but I guess it’s the same thing. It’s learning the importance of struggle in my life and how that’s transformative and the beautiful things that come after that.

LG: I like that. I hadn’t made that connection either.

CB: That was new for me [laughs] I hadn’t made that connection to Time of Trial, that solidified things for me. So thank you.

LG: You’re welcome.

CB: That’s why I like these conversations. We do this.

LG: Things come out.

CB: Yeah.

—{END Part 1]—

Stay tuned next week when I ask Clovis questions like:

LG: I’m curious as to why you picked the Mushroom Cloud and not say the “Robot Apocalypse” or the “Zombie Apocalypse” or the “Monkey Plague Apocalypse”?

-Luke

Luke & Clovis at the AEM art show, circa 2006
Luke & Clovis