Seattle artist Gregory Blackstock has died at the age of 77
By then the Seattle artist Gregory Blackstock He died on January 10 at the age of 77 after a series of strokes, achieving a level of success far beyond that of many of his peers. Of the hundreds of his signature catalog-like drawings, only a dozen remain unsold, according to his dealer, Greg Kuchera. His work has been the focus of several documentaries, a book, as well as a solo museum exhibition in Lausanne, Switzerland.
said Kucera, whose namesake gallery represented Blackstock Since 2012. “He had no idea about the art market. He did work that interested him, with the attitude that, ‘If you like it, others will like it, too.’”
Although Blackstock was never officially diagnosed, his family believes he has autism spectrum disorder with science skills. A leading autism expert who spent time with Blackstock as an adult called him an “amazing scientist,” said his cousin Dorothy Frisch. This was not an introduction available to his family when he was young, Frisch said, which led to him being sent for five years to a school for “troubled” youth, an experience he later recalled with great displeasure. When he eventually returned to Seattle, he took a series of low-paying jobs, including a 25-year stint as a dishwasher at the Washington Athletic Club.
A turning point occurred around the age of 40, when Blackstock began creating the distinctive drawings for which he is best known, where his remarkable skills as a great teacher came to the fore. By the time Cousin Frisch drew him to his first exhibition in Seattle in 2003, he had several hundred works on paper wrapped in his wardrobe, in which he meticulously labeled each type of subject and his fluent portraiture. The gallery, Garde Rail, took the opportunity to display his pieces, according to Frisch. Twelve one-person exhibitions followed, initially Gard Railthen with Kucera, and Blackstock eventually managed to live off his art sales and his pension.
Blackstock’s typical work announces its subject matter with a bold, handwritten title: “MONSTERS OF THE DEEP,” “THE DISNEY MARRIED COUPLES,” “The Complete CONVAIR LINER AIRCRAFT.” The rest of the paper features rows of organized, straightforward renderings of the things involved, often with helpful captions, based on his exhaustive research and amazing memory – “The world’s largest, yet harmless ray,” “The 2Abbreviation II The main source of maple sugar”, “the fastest record-holder among outsiders”. Few subjects were so obscure or technical to hold his attention; besides kits like boots, knives, and knotweed, he also devoted an entire paper to the warning signs of the National Park Service. Even to a thesaurus, a concentration of papers covered in hundreds of lines of text, it is clear that his interest is as much in the artist as in his more visually compelling groups, such as flags, islands, or architectural landmarks.
“Categorizing things was really important to him,” Frisch said. “He could only begin to draw after naming it and adding all the comments; then he would fill in the artwork.” Much of his research was done in the library and, according to Frisch, “librarians would later appear at his exhibitions, bearing cards and flowers”. Even the Washington Athletic Club honored him after his retirement with a show in the hotel lobby.
Blackstock was also a familiar figure as a street performer, indulging his love of accordion music outside of sports stadiums and downtown theatres. Given his drab dress and odd manners, Frisch said, “You would never dream that he could live in several languages, or quote an entire film’s dialogue from memory,” or, according to Kucera, “remember the location of every drawing he ever sold.”
What is evident, said Frisch, from the recollections of those who knew him well, was a man who was “never bored”, and whose keen involvement with the ephemera and variety of the world gave him intense pleasure, and who in his own way, relishing the praise which his works of art eventually won, proudly embroidered T-shirts with his name and goodwill artwork.
Blackstock is survived by nine cousins. Souvenirs can be presented to support University of Washington Autism Center.
Information from the Seattle Times archives was used in this report.