By NOAH BECKER, Nov. 2017
I recently had a conversation with painter Tara Blackwell, an artist whose bright colored playful paintings attracted my attention for a variety of reasons. I’m a fan of her color sense and was excited to see what she had to say about her paintings and her life as an artist.
Noah Becker: You were raised around art, tell me about your childhood?
Tara Blackwell: My father owned a gallery/ art space in Bridgeport, CT called the “Rubaiyat.” This is where my parents met—they were both painters. From what I understand this was the place to be for artists. He eventually closed the space but it seems our home became the meeting place for their artist friends.
Becker: That’s a great way to learn as a child.
Blackwell: Yes, I was immersed in the arts that way—staying up late in my footie pajamas in a smoke-filled living room observing and listening to my parents and their friends talk art and such. My extended family is also filled with visual artists and performers. The arts were a major part of my upbringing.
Becker: Sounds very organic. So you learned by being around it.
Blackwell: I would always watch my dad paint and would always be interrupting to show him my drawings. He wasn’t the type of parent who would say ‘good job’ and hang my little artwork on the fridge. At a young age, I was having my work critiqued. As the baby in the family, I tried to keep up, spending hours trying to perfect my art skills. I would draw constantly.
Becker: Did you know that you were a good artist early on?
Blackwell: I honestly didn’t think I had any artistic ability until people on the outside (teachers, other kids) would comment on what a “good artist” I was. Inside my home, we all made art so it wasn’t anything ‘special.’ I think the way I was raised prepared me to handle criticism and to be self-critical in a healthy way.
Becker: So family members were inspirational to you artistically?
Blackwell: My brother, 4 years older than me and a gifted artist, would try to help me out by showing me different techniques. I learned from my dad by looking over his shoulder, but my brother was more hands-on with me. We were very close-- Unfortunately and tragically, my brother was shot and killed when we were teenagers.
Becker: How tragic.
Blackwell: I believe he would have had a prolific career as an artist. At that time, art became even more important to me because it was a way to process my complicated emotions—especially because I was a quiet, inward kid. I had little interest in school at that time, but my art class is what kept me going. I just spent as much time as I could in the studio.
Becker: Let’s talk about your current series.
Blackwell: The series I’m working on now is connected to childhood memories hanging out at the corner store with my brother. Although there are specific personal connections to the images I explore, there is, of course, a universality to them—I find that an individual will instantly recall a memory or have an emotional response when viewing the work. It is really cool to hear what comes up for people.
Becker: I read something about you being involved in graffiti, are you now?
Blackwell: I’m not now, but it is my first love. I was greatly influenced by graffiti growing up. I feel like it was a way to show your chops as a young artist— and a way to make a little money. Kids would ask me and my brother to graffiti their jeans, jean jackets, make party flyers, stuff like that.
Becker: Your work is very graphic and colorful. How do you think about the difference between illustration and painting?
Blackwell: This is an interesting question because I think difference for me is so subtle. I studied advertising and commercial design in college. When illustrating, you are usually producing work for a client, like developing a logo, right? I think there are some similar elements to this and producing fine art—both are eliciting a response from the viewer.
Becker: What about illustration?
Blackwell: In commercial illustration you are trying to communicate a message (from the client) to the consumer visually and to influence them. I think that’s what paintings do as well, but they are more reflective of the artist’s own ideas and beliefs. Although I paint logos which are obviously commercial in nature, the motivation behind them is deeply personal and based my own interpretation.
Becker: Why logos? Is pop art what you consider your work to be?
Blackwell: Studying advertising, I have this quirky knowledge of the history of logos. I love the imagery and colors and seeing the progression of a logo for a product with a long history. It’s interesting how these images become etched in one’s mind and can evoke memories and emotions instantly. Yes, my work is definitely “pop.”
Becker: What’s your favorite color?
Blackwell: Red. I love bold colors.
Becker: You're making acrylic paintings on canvas, do you also make sculptures?
Blackwell: I have experimented a little bit with sculpture but I am primarily a painter.
Becker: Is there a connection between the products that you paint or is it based on your interest in a particular logo?
Blackwell: Both, but first and foremost it is my connection to the product. The Corner Store series is based on hanging out at the corner store as a kid with my brother and friends. Each painting has a personal meaning for me.
Becker: Is there a political aspect or a narrative aspect to your work?
Blackwell: The series certainly didn’t start that way, but it sort of evolved. While the work is still rooted in my childhood experiences there is an underlying narrative based on current events in some of the pieces. When I start a painting I don’t intentionally seek to convey a specific social-political message necessarily—I start with a logo or product that I have a personal connection to and as the piece develops whatever is on my mind will sometimes come out in the painting.
Becker: There's a humorous aspect to the logos you are painting, do you think about that?
Blackwell: Since these are images that I remember as a kid, I want my art to be fun and sort of childlike. And yes, humor is part of that ‘fun’ element. Examining serious issues through the use of humor is like taking medicine with sugar.
Becker: What's coming up for you?
Blackwell: I am having a lot of fun with the Corner Store so I am busy in the studio making new work for this series-- I am preparing for a solo show this month.
Tara Blackwell opens Sunday, November 12th 4-6pm at The Townhouse Gallery in Stamford, CT. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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