Interview with Andrew Blanchard, by Jennifer Palmer
Published: Vol. II, Issue I
Date of Interview: Sept. 21st, 2015
I wanted to start by asking you to discuss your experience at Master Printer Training - IDL Graphique Atelier in Paris, France.
I went to Paris on a whim, though was invited after having met master lithographer Frederic Possot. He was a guest of my first mentor, Bill Baggett, at my undergrad institution for a week long workshop. We hit it off and I was working in his atelier one month later. I had a wonderful experience there. I shadowed him and his crew, getting to pull images off of hundred year old litho stones, learning photo litho, and mounting an exhibition during the Mois de L’estampe (month of the print). I had always dreamed of going to the Tamarind Institute (of which I was accepted in 2004—though declined due to a job offer). Possot’s grandfather was also a lithographer, so my friendship with Fredo and his legacy/expertise had quite the profound effect on my outlook as one more link in the chain.
What role does location play in your work?
The most significant role, I would say. My body of work for the last five years has been dedicated to the American South. I reckon like author Willie Morris said of the region: “Physically and in my memories, to remind myself who I am, for the South keeps me going.” Of which, it has kept me and my artwork going. It provides such an abundance of vivid imagery, varied layers of complexity, and from where I stand now I feel like it could be what will establish my lifelong career as an artist.
Urban Removal | Screen-Print Ink with Wood Inlay on Mounted Found-Wood Panel | 36" x 48" x 3" | 2015
Where is your favorite place to travel?
Well, and I hate to seem redundant, but… the South. I’ve been doing jaunts from South Carolina (current home) to the Mississippi Gulf Coast/NOLA (birth area) for the last decade. So much to keep my eyes peeled on, you know? The change in smells, from pine to salt, is really infectious. I’ve brought a few buddies from varied locales with me on these trips—they too are eager, such as I, when these happen. I take them to shanty bayou crossings (literally, constructed of 2x4s and a few ropes), seafood eat-places of lore (higher-end ones too, Peche being a favorite) and, as many are artists, points of interest to photograph. I also have family down that way, too, so I stop in on them to shoot the breeze. My four-year-old daughter really enjoys these trips—she has Deep South blood, so I get tickled watching her figure out her familial roots. I’ve traveled the world. It’s quite grand. I’m apprehensive to do so now, but encourage folks (artists alike) to get outside of where you’re from to understand your own personal geography better, and to evolve one’s humility and humanity by being exposed to various lifestyles and cultures.
Looking over your portfolio I was drawn to your Dixie Totems series. I was curious to learn more about what inspired you to create these works?
This series began when faced with a really large project initiated by artist Brian Kelly. He created the traveling exhibition East/West: National Printmaking Portfolio Exchange. It featured two printmakers from each of the 50 states in the US. I chose to challenge myself with a new process, the CMYK screen-print medium, which would also churn out a colorful edition and create less waste because of the exact registration. I devised the Dixie Totem, of which I had never seen before—an image that would narrate the complexities/dualities of the American South in a stacked convention. Since then, I no longer edition them on paper. They are all one-off’s on wood panel. For me, I can drive across six Southern states and collect images for these, or if in a time pinch, just drive up the street. I can prescribe conceptual/aesthetic parameters for each one I make, say, an all Georgia based totem (in which each of the stacked images are from one state), or a summer-inspired totem. They get deeper than that. Over time (there are now 13 in the series), they evolved to dictate and disintegrate racial stereotypes. Meaning, for the viewer, I want one to mull over varied signs or automobile types and gauge which folk would involve/associate themselves with said visuals. I build the Dixie Totems as unbiased playing fields (all of my work) for the greater public to judge their own levels of racial profiling and stereotyping. This has generated great dialogue with my viewing patronage. And to be honest, I really have fun exploring in order to document all of the bits to these Jenga-like works.
Dixie Totem VIII | Screen-Print on Mounted Found-Wood Panel/Frame | 36" x 24" x 2" | 2013
What advice would you give artists starting out?
Stick with it! It was inevitable in my case-in my genetic make-up, as my father (portrait artist in the French Quarter) and aunt (Maureen, a wonderful illustrator and jewelry maker in her own right!) were constantly making work when I was growing up, and my grandmother painted as well. Advice wise, if it’s not familial, it’s constant practice, an unfaltering work ethic and a desire to tell visual stories that must drive a young artist. Make friends with writers/scientists/actors-actresses/construction workers/philosophers/all sorts of folks. Take trips a’plenty to diversify your usual habits and experiences, though understand your own environment in order to be influenced with ideas. Mainly, explore, but remember to not take things too personal, and, by all means, speak to people. Get off of that damned social media and those future phones—look someone in the eye and have conversations.
Did you always see yourself as an artist?
It’s not that I didn’t see myself as an artist, it’s just once I hit college age, I knew I didn’t want to study anything else. I grew up around it, but worked manual labor. So, as that gave me the endurance for my future life, it’s not something I wanted to continue in order to provide a living. Around age fourteen, I became more aware of a local MS Gulf Coast artist by the name of Walter Anderson. I thought I could follow in those footsteps, somewhat, in regard to dedicating myself to art-making as a career.
Who influenced you as an artist?
In the past, Anderson (as stated above) was a driving factor. His passion and dedication to his subject matter and rather mercurial practices (rowing out to barrier islands to make work, even during hurricane season) were exciting to learn of as a teenage artist. The artist/educator William Baggett taught me process and self-respect for my work and Sheri Fleck Rieth, my grad mentor, instilled in me a curiosity of concept. William (Bill) Dunlap has been a huge influence on me. His generosity and level-headed direction has been a very fine gift. He’s opened so many doors for me, and it reminds me to do the same as I have the chance for younger artists/my students. To not include literary folks (some I’ve met and most I haven’t) would be an injustice to my visual output. I’m largely into Southern fiction, folks such as: Barry Hannah, Jesmyn Ward, Harry Crews, Jamie Kornegay, Kiese Laymon, T. Geronimo Johnson, Ron Rash, George Singleton, Faulkner, Harry Crews, Larry Brown, and Harper Lee. In the present, the visual artists that get me stoked, to name a few, are: Charles Ladson, Bo Bartlett, Kara Walker, Bret Amory, Mark Bradford, Sally Mann, and William Christenberry.
What is your most important artist tool?
My mind. A close second would be my soul.
What is one item you could not work without in your studio?
My entire screen-print setup: laptop, inkjet printer, exposure unit, and large work tables—more than one item, but I deem it a kit (singular unit) of sorts. I cheated on this one. Of course the squeegees and ink are in the picture too.
Could you describe your artistic process?
Much of this is personal, the ole’ arsenal of tricks and such, so no snitchin’ on my trade secrets. As you know, my work is image driven, and all of those visuals are shot by myself throughout the South. I utilize minimal post production via Photoshop, and usually drop out backgrounds and then convert the images to either high contrast or I separate the CMYK channels in order to print transparencies that I use for exposing onto screen-print frames. I work with a lot of “open” screens, sans images—ones in which I mash color through, layer after layer until I achieve richness, surface texture, etc. Some works take a week, while others take several months. From there, I’m gonna have to let y’all figure out the rest.
How has your practice changed over time?
I’ve tried all of the printmaking processes, and after having done that, I was a dedicated lithographer for almost a decade. I think grad school burned me out on litho and drawing in general. When I took my current teaching position, I pretty much switched to screen-printing, as it’s so versatile. And it’s water-based, so cleanup is simple and far more healthy than the oil-based methods. Over time, I’ve come to still think like a printer/graphic artist, but I’ve taken on a more painterly persuasion in regard to the application and physicality of my art making. I now work on wood panels, which are far more forgiving than paper—mistakes and happy accidents can be incorporated and not fretted upon. Once this shift in my work evolved, I was able to free the conventions of labeling myself as a printmaker and now just claim to be an artist. Looking back, I wish I had not been so rigid in my years in higher ed. I’ve been doing some wooden inlays on my panels and am attempting to recreate some of my flat works into dimensional creations. We’ll see!
What is your workspace/studio like?
I moved into a new space last October. My first studio was inherited from the artist Jonas Criscoe (such a rad guy). It was leaky and had no temperature controls, but it helped me churn out some solid work in the three years I was in there—big walls were a plus. During one of last summer’s Southern deluges, a wall caved in (basement space) and compromised a large portion of my work. Now, I rent a wonderful space from photographer Carroll Foster. I set up shop in his greenroom, which he uses for his models to get prepped for shoots. It’s gigantic, and has mechanic’s roll-down doors, HV/AC, an alarm system, and an antique pool table—really a nice spread, though lacks wall space. I’m super thankful to be there.
The artist’s workspace.
If there was one thing you wanted people to know about your work what would it be?
Spoken so well by André 3000, I’d want people to know “the South has something to say!” I would love for folks to understand that I take super amounts of pride in my work. It’s a labor of love, to create and put forth my ideas about where I call home. A place that is so complex, full of history (regret, triumph, defeat, entropic yet enduring), and yet I feel so compelled to air out its laundry list of cultural character.
What project or projects are you currently working on?
I’ve got three exhibitions I’m working on right now: a group show at Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, NC entitled Southern Stories, which runs from late October through December; Southlandia with Bill Dunlap in November at Southside Gallery in Oxford, MS (that show always has great traffic; last time the author John Grisham came out and the NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning picked up one of my works). Then, I’ll add to and reshow Southlandia at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN as a solo exhibition in February of 2016, thanks to my buddy Michael Dickens. Southlandia will feature several ongoing series(s), including Urban Removal, Stations of the Cross, and the veteran suite, Dixie Totems. Creating mostly landscapes, I envisioned the work for this exhibit to portray varied ideas of Southern land ownership. Though having my buddy/former student Rosetta Nesbitt over for a recent studio visit, she quickly discerned that I indeed had landscapes in format, but the compositional content was overtly self-portrait-like. That comment was one of the best ones I’ve received in a long damn time, as it took me aback for a second (days actually). I’ve also recently signed with a new gallery—Drawl, in Little Rock, AR. They specialize in Fine Contemporary Southern Art. Nice folks. Their opening gala will be this coming October 9th… if you’ve got any readers from that area, I suggest they go out and have a gander.
Aint Fit to Eat | Screen-Print Ink and Enamel on Mounted Found-Wood Panel | 36" x 48" x 3" | 2015
What is your favorite book?
That’s a trick question for someone who reads two or three books per month. It’s like eating a cheese burger at Ike’s Korner Grille—each one I take down is better than the last! I really enjoyed the newish book Soil, am a huge fan of Salvage the Bones (I can read it over and over), recently chomped through Geronimo Rex, and am currently reading (upon my brother Jean-Paul’s gifting) H is for Hawk. I keep a few books going at all times. Earlier this summer I re-read two of Faulkner’s greatest short stories, Race at Morning and The Old People. Two real gems.