In conversation with ROSS BLECKNER

Ross Bleckner (born May 12, 1949 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American artist. He currently lives and works in New York City. His artistic focus is on painting, and he held his first solo exhibition in 1975 at Cunningham Ward Gallery in New York. In 1979, he began what was to become a long association with Mary Boone Gallery. Bleckner uses symbolic imagery rather than direct representation, his work is visually elusive, with forms that are in motion and constantly change focus. He views his work as life: we’re born, we live, we die. In 1995, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum had a major retrospective of his works from the last two decades of exhibitions at acclaimed institutions such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and the Carnegie Museum of Art. He was one of the youngest artists to be featured at the Guggenheim.Works by the artist are held in collections around the world including Museum of Modern Art, New York, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Collezione Maramotti Museum, Reggio, Italy, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Jewish Museum, New York, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. Varia Serova, Creative Director and curator of Zephyr and Maize, asked the master a few questions about his work and artistic practice.

June 2020 © Ross Bleckner for Zephyr and Maize

Image: © Parish Art Museum.

Varia Serova: Your work balances between representation and abstraction, do you see it as a struggle or an opportunity? Which elements of the both do you find stimulating?

Ross Bleckner: Your mind always needs to open up to both the non recognition and the identity of reality as you perceive it, in Zen Buddhism it's called "beginner's mind". And while easier said then done, I try to follow the path of ideas, that are in themselves clear, vague, fugitive, misleading, mutating, both new and by default...this can also be described as the balance between representation and abstraction.  I don't know another way to think about things.   

VS: What are your studio practice and process like?

RB: My studio practice, especially in these difficult days, is to try to maintain some kind of discipline and consistency.  I don't necessarily know what I'll do, I am just looking for new solutions to continuous problems. I treat my studio like my laboratory, and I experiment both with images and the materials that produce them, i.e. paint. There's a chemistry to it, that suggests that if you experiment enough with it, some new combination will manifest itself. There's always something to do...and if there isn't, as Brancusi said: "just sweep the floor".   

VS: What is your work driven by? You’ve once mentioned being inspired by an idea about humanity - about anonymity, and how human personalities are in the constant state of fluctuation and blending. Is that still true?

RB: Fluctuation is more prevalent today then it's ever been...we are living with unprecedented levels of uncertainty. Bodies of work, by not offering solutions, offer the viewer the openness to be able to keep asking questions, questions like "what is this?" and "why?".

VS: Has the means of addressing this theme change? What other themes or reflections have revealed themselves in your work through time?

RB: I've always been interested in the vulnerability of the body, the emotions that it represses/expresses/obscures and articulates, and how these are distorted by my intense fascination with beauty and love. 

VS: Elements of nature are often present: flowers, tree shapes, weeds. Is nature one of the strongest aesthetic catalysts, the epitome of beauty? Where does it find itself in your narrative? 

RB: Nature is the reality that I come back to. Nature is the force that reminds us of our precariousness, it has been telling us lately that we are not necessary here. The Air, Earth, Water are fine without us. When this pandemic ends, or the next one, or the one after that, maybe we'll finally understand that we are guests on Earth, not it's masters.

  VS: Who are your heroes in the world of art? 

RB: I have no heroes in the art world, but I do have many artist and writers that I continually look to for inspiration. Among them are El Greco, Mark Rothko, Maya Angelou, Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, and I like to re-read Fernando Passao's "Times of Disquiet".       

VS: How are you handling recent events, did they have any influence on your practice?

RB: My work stands at an intersection between my life and our times... as far as recent events, as Bertolt Brecht wrote:

"in the dark times , will there be singing ? 

yes, there will also be singing 

about the dark times".