At once classically familiar and eerily chimerical, Julie Blackmon’s work draws the viewer into the everyday world of a typical suburban family with skillful metaphor and touching sincerity. Her recognition of Jan Steen as a major influence makes sense immediately in the crisp perspective of works like Concert, the painterly effect of Queen — even the proverbial subject matter and subtle moralizing of Dinner Party. The Dutch have used the term een huishouden van Jan Steen (“A Jan Steen Household”) for centuries to describe this universally common spectacle of a rowdy environment overrun with children and clutter. Blackmon’s more recent citations of artists like Edward Gorey and Tim Burton as influences are not as apparent without some closer inspection.
Her series Mind Games focuses on the sprawling fantasy worlds of young children and their ability to play. Some photographs peer down benignly on bucolic scenes of playtime, while others, shot from the eye level of a child, invite the viewer into the game. However idyllic these moments may seem at first, they are cut sharply with elements of both realism and satire. In a recent interview with photo-eye Gallery’s Anne Kelly, Blackmon stated ” …I think there’s something about children that lends itself to humor more so than adults. Maybe it’s that combination of something touching and sweet mixed with an element of the macabre, or a blending of innocence and impending darkness that almost seems charming.”
Though depicting ordinary households and commonplace events, Blackmon’s work is rich with playfulness and human drama. While often adopting visual and thematic elements of the Dutch Golden Age, the completed body of work branches into wildly surrealistic landscapes such as in Fish Tank and Flying Umbrellas; it also features some very post modern and almost hyper-realistic elements such as the tight, insistent composition, coy self-awareness, and redolent tension in works like PC and Green Velvet. Even the matter-of-fact titles of her photographs, most noticeably Floatie from Blackmon’s later series Domestic Vacations, tend to belie the subtly fantastic imagery they portray.
Blackmon grew up as the oldest of nine children, and is now herself the mother of three. Her finished pieces are composite images of everyday scenes from her life, featuring her children, her sisters’ children, as well as other friends from the neighborhood. Her experience living as part of a big family has largely fashioned the theme and scope of her work, and her overwhelming choice of children as subjects lends to it a bewitching energy. Simultaneously a work of fiction and an autobiography, her art tells us of a world both pastoral and pathological, and invokes what Blackmon calls “the need to simultaneously escape and connect” with the chaos and beauty of it all.
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Text by Meghan Maloney
All images © Julie Blackmon.