Most of the pieces in Bruce Blanchette’s exhibition now at AVA are wall-mounted, yet you feel you’re looking downward on them. And you may waver between calling it collage or painting or sculpture.
Blanchette, one of AVA’s 2017 Juried Award Winners and whose work is up in the The Clifford B. West Gallery until August 24, renders the experience of an aerial view—of what could be cityscapes or cracked earth—in three-dimensional depth, forcing us out of conventional ways of interacting not just with art but with the world.
We asked Blanchette to let us into his process and singular point of view.
Tell us about aerial landscapes in your work. Whether it appears we’re looking down from great heights upon wending rivers or ancient symmetrical cities or cracked earth, where does this fascination come from?
Bruce Blanchette: We live today with technology that pervades every aspect of how we see the world. What was once unknowable, like viewing our planet from satellite photos, even the moon, has exposed us to the reality of the living earthly spaceship which provides us with everything we need to survive the hostile environment of the universe. Unfortunately, we have not treated Mother Earth very well in the past couple of centuries and are beginning to see the result of our careless disregard for the environment.
I first became influenced by the photos of David Maisel, which were aerial views of landscapes being ruined by industrial pollution and selfish greed. My 2008 low reliefs were a response to Maisel’s sightings from an airplane, which struck a chord with me. These works were my imaginings that incorporated wallboard compound, sand, adhesives and traditional painting materials to manipulate color and surface. Later, my continued fascination with images taken from space used laser technology to form an accurate topographic mapping of the earth by scientists and archeologists searching for ancient ruins—in the jungles of Central America, in Egypt, and other parts of the world. These new 3-D computer-generated images gave me much to think about.
And I pick up a tension in the fractured symmetry of these pieces. Even in the Glacial series, there’s a tendency toward balance in the riven surface. An even breakage. How do you understand this unusual symmetry—in nature and in your work?
BB: This is not so much a desire for balance as it is a function of cropping my composition. I look at them as small sections of landscape that I have excised from the surrounding area of photographs, then converted to drawings in ink on panels. It is also my biggest struggle, because I feel some, like the Glacial Series, are too “perfect” and, perhaps, sterile as expressions. Attempting to eliminate the square and rectangular framed format is what I have moved toward in recent modular pieces. It bothered me, probably more than viewers, that my reliefs could so easily be mistaken for paintings… a little too “precious” for my current awareness of possibilities beyond the frame! My task, as I see it lately, is to use more asymmetry as a factor in my conceptual aesthetic.
You’ve said that your process begins with the material in hand, before any idea or concept has taken hold. What aspects of a chosen material do you consider, to give it the potential to be reshaped?
BB: Typically, I choose support materials first, and usually have something in mind beforehand that I want to add to it. I have a lot of experience working with wood or materials adaptable to woodworking techniques and tools. For a number of years, I have found hollow core doors to be a very lightweight and rigid substrate upon which all kinds of media can be applied. Formerly, I used MDF board for this purpose, but it is extremely heavy. Beyond that, almost anything that I can glue, screw, nail, or otherwise affix to the backing opens up creative possibilities for wall hung reliefs.
Your work seems to reside at the intersection of sculpture and canvas, and even slides between two- and three-dimensionality, depending on one’s angle of perspective. Is this a tension you feel yourself negotiating as you create?
BB: Absolutely! The best example of this is the fully three-dimensional “Ground Zero-Altar of the True Path,” which in its original form was a wall hanging maze, and devoid of context. It took me a couple of years, after putting it aside, to realize that it needed to be horizontal, not vertical, after which the concept grew into the piece that resides in the show. However, I am not adverse to reworking any artwork that has, in my mind, unresolved issues which this piece did; engendering a third revision this past year to correct a surface problem that didn’t satisfy me. In this case, the tension was aesthetic rather than structural.
Explore Bruce Blanchette’s exhibit, along with work by fellow Juried Award Winners Helen Shulman and Susan Wilson, at AVA Gallery until August 24.