Freedom From the Endless Cycles of Personal Reincarnations
May 6 – June 26, 2022
The End: 1870 Murphy Ave SW, Atlanta
Seeing the stunning scale of the new work at The End online required reaching out to the artist for a few questions. Talking with Blair LeBlanc about the process, both conceptually and physically also included a discussion of the space and its founder. Blair says “The show is very much a collaboration with the Director of The End project space, painter and 2018 Guggenheim fellow Craig Drennen. We started a conversation about the work in March 2021, and have been in dialogue since then.” In the dialog form we explored further.
Interview by Jon Sewell.
Can you describe your piece (significance and reference)?
I make art for two reasons – I love this process and I want to add value back to the history of art that has contributed to so much joy and connection in my life. And in my friends and families’ lives.
The first Nirvana painting was made by pure impulse in 2020. At a time of total confusion and chaos, I turned my focus to working to find peace. Now, remaking it in 2022 as a large scale work, I think it’s significance has amplified. It’s reflective of the time were living in now, where at moments we feel like we know exactly what’s going on, and then… we don’t.
As a piece, it references both pop art for it’s recognizable text image and abstract expressionism for the feeling driven painting process.
While the physical process used stencil and hand applied paint, what was the process conceptually?
The stencil is the way for me to embed thought and feeling in material. The concept of nirvana is balance. Beauty and ugliness. Work and rest. I welcome the slow, intentionally arduous task of creating a stencil – to then allow myself to paint freely.
What was the process like with the gallery (i.e. How much do we all love Craig :)?
I love this question. I’m a millennial – I’m 27 now, approaching 8 years as an exhibiting artist, and two of those years making money on it. I have my 10,00 hours and I feel like I’m entering the next era of my work.
This show happened as the result of a triangle of studio visits between Craig Drennen, Veronica Kessenich and I. I had first heard rumors of Craig when I was studying at GSU. In 2017, word got out that one of our professors won the nationally recognized Guggenheim fellowship. So, when I started painting, I sought out his opinion. After some negotiating, we started having conversations, and decided to make a large scale text work May 2022.
The process was unique and unlike anything I’d done before. The most striking aspect of this experience for me is that throughout it all I’ve been 100% aware that I wanted to make this painting at The End a year ago, we made it, and it looks exactly as we planned. It’s a kind of full circle moment that I don’t take for granted.
I took the approach of, “whatever you think is best and serves this space.” I have so much respect and admiration for Craig, who on top of being a successful artist is also a dedicated and engaged community member. He has been generous and gives me critical feedback which can be hard to come by.
In planning for this show, did you consider other words/ideas?
Definitely. Given this is a site specific work, I used the year to research and plan. I dove into the details, wrote a blueprint, and for better or worse became aware of the problems surrounding my work.
One, the logistical issue of making a stencil 20 feet wide was a big challenge. And two, I had to accept the heavier side of this well known band. They, as a group, experienced a real loss of innocence about the art making process in a capitalist country like the US and each band member dealt with it in different ways. But, for me, I still believe we’re in control of our stories and I rather spotlight their brightness. They were advocates for women, and had fun making music.
When going for this scale, are there different interactions being inside close up to the piece vs outside looking in able to see it all?
The scale factor was huge. The first Nirvana paintings are body sized – imagine pulling a t shirt over your head. That big. Making the work bigger was the purpose behind the show, and so thrilling. I wanted it to have a palpable presence. The size of a concert stage.
I was nervous going into it. I hadn’t even seen the space before going to Atlanta to paint it. It was sink or swim. So – of course – we swam. It was an immersive, 19 hour process.
In my first solo exhibition, Lovesong (2019), I showed a group of small intimate photographs backgrounded by an improvisational rock band performance. It was a celebration of the DIY underground art scene in Atlanta at the time. Even though the show was open for one night, I approached it with the care of a museum exhibition.
And in my second show, New Americans (2020), I painted contemporary iconic images. One of them being the first Nirvana. This time they were poster size and the show was installed at a movie theatre in Athens, Georgia.
So scaling and going larger, making work that resonates longer to a bigger audience has been something I’ve been working towards for some time. As long as it makes sense, it’d be awesome to keep moving in this direction.
This installation is fun due to its scale and similar in that regard to Avantika Bawa’s “ICE. ICE” from a couple years ago. Do you find the space lends itself to that scale despite its square footage?
I might have to say no, but I appreciate the comparison. The End itself is a small space, but that was part of the challenge. How to make something massive with a tight budget and in the time of two days, in the space the size of a train shipping container.
I think what the End is doing is, or what this show feels like for me, only time will tell, but I feel like this is the end of my early work.
What’s next for you?
In life, what’s next, this is cheesy, but as much as I love making art, my priority is – being a good and thoughtful friend, girlfriend, daughter, co worker, community member.
In art, I just want to continue painting. Painting more, getting better and more articulate. I want to make excellent work that is urgent and strikes a chord.
I want to get closer to expressing the thing that I can only express through art – the reason I keep creating and find it endlessly exciting.
I have a lot of ideas. And as a bit of a control freak, I do keep a list of people I want work with. I hope to be in conversation with them and add value, but for those committed relationships, I’m ready but in no rush.
Thank you, Jon!
From the Press Release:
Freedom From The Endless Cycle Of Personal Reincarnations is a temporary mural wall
painting of the name of a 1990’s American band, Nirvana. The typeface is painted in black
directly onto the white gallery wall through a hand traced stencil. The letters are clean but
distorted. Measuring 20 by 4 feet, the painting was created in 2 days on location.
This monumentally scaled painting was inspired equally by abstract expressionism and pop
art. It was painted in a method that requires two extreme modes. The first step: precise
projecting cutting tracing of the iconic text image, which then allows for the second step:
uninhibited free for all painting.
Like the band’s music, and their name’s original religious meaning, this movie screen size
painting brings the viewer’s attention to their body and into the present moment. At the same
time, the viewer is confronted with the contemporary associations they hold with the name
Nirvana; be it evolving identity, the capitalization of art, or teenage emotions.
Ultimately, the temporary painting stands as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of the peaks
and valleys, compromises, and freedoms of life. Success/ failure, boredom/ euphoria,
investment/ indulgence – all require each other. That if one is willing to surrender to a period
of constraint steered with sound intentions, enduring impact will inevitably follow.
About the artist:
Blair LeBlanc was born in 1994 in Atlanta, GA. She was named by Wussy Mag one of “Ten
Atlanta Artists To Look Out For In 2016.” LeBlanc received her BFA from the Ernest G.
Welch School of Art & Design in 2017. There, she was awarded by the photography faculty
the Undergraduate Photography Student Scholarship and by the disciplinary wide faculty the
Mark Philips Scholarship. LeBlanc lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
For inquiries about the work or purchases, please contact the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.