TWO VIEWS OF (IN) IN, 2008, NOGUCHI LAMP, PAINTED WOOD, XARPET, FRAMED GOUACHE ON PAPTER. ALL IMAGES COURTESY THE ARTIST AND FEATURE, INC., NEW YORK.
Dike Blair is having a good year: in April he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the visual arts, and this month a major exhibition of his work, "Now and Again," opens at the Weatherspoon Art Museum, in Greensboro, N.C. The show, Blair's first museum solo, is organized by Weatherspoon curator Xandra Eden and is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Eden and writer Gary Indian. Born in 1952, Blair grew up in western Pennsylvania. He earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in1977, and also attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. Since landing in New York in the mid-'70s, Blair has charted a singular path, making work that ranges from early paintings on glass to installations inspired by Disney World's Epcot Center. In the mid'80s, Blair began to make modestly scaled gouaches, and has continued the practice ever since. Over the years these paintings have focused on a succession of thematic pairings: travel scenes and still lifes, windows and flowers, and more recently, eyes and nocturnes with parking lots or footsteps in snow. About 15 years ago, Blair's sculptural inclination led to a series of assemblages made out of carpeting, light fixtures, photographs and bench-like elements. Then, about three years ago, the sculptures changed, and the carpet and light pieces gave way to an ongoing series that incorporates painted wooden crates as one of several recurring motifs.
The exhibition at the Weatherspoon will gather 51 gouaches and 14 large sculptures dating from 2001 to the present, and will be installed by the artist to highlight his tendency to make work in pairs. In addition to making art, Blair teaches painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. A collection of his writings, Again: Selected Interviews and Essays, was published by WhiteWalls in 2007. He lives and works in New York City, where he has been represented by Feature Inc., and in Hortonville, N.Y., where he has a large studio. We met upstate in July and, following lunch with his wife, Marie Abma, a costume designer, began our conversation.
STEEL STILLMAN: Were you interested in art as a child?
DIKE BLAIR: I was. My mother is a painter, and I developed some ability to render at an early age, and that became part of my identity. I remember having the hope that I'd get more interested in something else, but it never quite happened. And I remember feeling uneasy about calling myself an artist, not just because it was an unstable profession, but because it seemed pretentious.
STILLMAN: When did becoming an artist start to seem more possible?
BLAIR: I dropped out of college in 1971 after my freshman year, moved to New York, and while living and working there, took a course at the New School. It was a contemporary art history class with Jeanne Siegel that included visits to artists' studios.
I remember looking at nonobjective painting and feeling the scales fall from my eyes: suddenly I understood the language. Then, in 1974, during a student residency at Skowhegan, I realized that artists were the people with whom I was most comfortable, that the art world was the place in which I was most happy.