Jerry Blackman in front of his acrylic anchor sculpture. — Photos by Aaron Short
Although manufacturing may be disappearing in Bushwick, one manufacturer, artist Jerry Blackman, is still very much working with wood, plastics, and silicone resins to make his giant sculptures of two-dimensional objects.
“Wood has its place, but synthetic materials are cultural materials. The product is utilitarian. Also, it’s not going to crack.”
An example. A ten-foot anchor made of acrylic glass, resin, and fiberboard is currently resting in a corner of the Dam Stuhltrager Gallery (38 Marcy Avenue). The anchor is made of “mixed materials,” as Blackman describes them, in three distinct forms, much like Neapolitan ice cream. There’s the transparent acrylic piece on the left, which transitions neatly into a brownish wood-grain center that transitions into a reflective mirror on the right. On the gallery’s back wall, next to the anchor, Blackman has taped individual pages from his sketchbook of schematics for the anchor, with precise measurements and diagrams of the model, as per the curator’s request.
“It is a two-dimensional symbol that is still part of the cultural vernacular,” said Blackman. “There’s the formal, conceptual aspect of an anchor and there’s the romance and nostalgia of seafaring journeys. There’s also the visual weight of the 3-D sculpture of a 2-D image. There’s a lightly spatial interaction with architecture too.”
Iconic images fascinate Blackman. At Bushwick Open Studios, his interlocking lips sculpture struck many visitors as a boldly romantic, yet synthetic representation of love. The anchor follows a similar theme, where Blackman has dipped into his “ongoing catalogue of images that fluctuate between representation and non-representation” for inspiration.
The lips and anchor sculptures echo gestures in the work of Claes Oldenburg, currently on display at The Whitney, and the populist sensibilities of Jeff Koons, though Blackman points to Jasper Johns as an influence as well.
“The maps, flags, targets, numbers, and letters he painted, the way to represent them is in 2D. In its essence they are 2D in a transcendental way,” said Blackman.
Blackman grew up in Mill Basin, a quiet residential neighborhood just south of Canarsie on the shore of Jamaica Bay. He went to LaGuardia High School before attending Cooper Union, a school known for its engineering curriculum. Blackman, however, learned to design and fabricate his work not in college but while working at art studios after school.
“I worked in a window design show where we did Christmas windows and a figure studio where we did sports and army figures for museums. I learned how to cast polyurethane resin into silicone molds and model epoxies,” said Blackman.
Blackman wanted to make the anchor even bigger, though there is always next time. The question ahead of him, besides what his next project will be, is what he will do with the sculpture after the exhibit. He says he will put it in his studio for now.
“I made these things to see what they look like,” said Blackman. “I’m not really thinking about selling them.”