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In her deceptively playful family photographs, Julie Blackmon creates rambunctious, irreverent escapades that bear a striking resemblance to familiar domestic situations. Funny, alarming and sometimes ominous, they are like a great game, part truth and part dare. You can play, too, at Blackmon’s solo show Fake Weather, on view at Robert Klein Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston through January 31st, 2018.
Cloaked in a guise of childhood antics, Julie Blackmon’s spirited tableaus draw upon her family life with provocative compositions, popping colors and devilish details. At first, the bustle of activity seems ordinary and innocent, but closer inspection brings intrigue and jeopardy. In “New Chair”, modern replaces old as the delivery of a bright red chair takes center stage. Kids are everywhere, toys strewn about, garage door lifting, and then you notice the boy with a plastic bag over his head. “Flag Cake” portrays a typical 4th of July backyard scene, with gamboling children and their bright toys spread across a verdant lawn, until you notice the unsupervised little girl in dangerous proximity to a large, unattended knife. Blackmon nails that fine line between domestic bliss and unexpected catastrophe that you can cross in a split second with delicious wit and wisdom. As she delivers the uncomfortable truth that risk lurks everywhere, she offers a satiric escape valve for the unrelenting demands and stressful expectations of family life.
Blackmon’s compositions are as tight as a drum, filled with clues to her enticing psychological puzzles. She cleverly leaves as much to the imagination as she supplies, by flirting at the edges of her frames with activity that occurs beyond them. Her animated contemporary scenes are partly inspired by 17th century Dutch and Flemish painters, creating an intentional edgy tension between traditional and new “family values”. Within this framework, Blackmon sets the stage for her favored conflicting themes, like connection vs. escape, calm vs. cacophony and sanctuary vs. peril. It’s a layered commentary on the larger challenges and choices we face today, delivered via velvet glove. With bouncy sets and alluring props, Blackmon walks us right into her bigger questions, like who exactly is the role model in “Peggy’s Beauty Shop” and just what is the insinuation in “Dress Rehearsal”?
These photographs are part of Blackmon’s prolific ongoing series, Homegrown, and I notice that her more recent work has begun to hint at world affairs. “Fake Weather” is an uproarious take on global warming, “Trapped” is an ominous reckoning of our current political state of affairs and “Sidewalk” sends up a warning flare regarding the ubiquity and accessibility of guns. During this fraught time when our chaotic world regularly threatens to bring us to the brink, wouldn’t you rather be shedding tears of laughter? The point is the same, as Blackmon so cunningly proves.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: https://www.robertkleingallery.com/
Feature Image: “Weeds” (Detail) from the series Homegrown by Julie Blackmon (courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston).