Julie Blackmon's premiere exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery, Line-Up presents a collection of work recalling classic art historical motifs that are recontextualized with narratives inspired by the artist's own frenzied upbringing. The oldest of nine children and now a mother of three, Blackmon binds her past to her present with a portrait of domesticity depicting a compound of anxiety, ambivalence, and amusement.
Blackmon underscores the chaos inherent in motherhood with a style that acts as both documentation and caricature. These semi-autobiographical anecdotes detail the difficult balance between fantasy and reality, portraying the humorous nature of the latter. Utilizing her own children, siblings, nieces, and nephews, the artist's subjects, rich in character and animation, dominate their settings with playful behavior infused with impending disaster.
Translucent in their referral to Dutch Renaissance master Jan Steen's paintings, Blackmon's photographs modernize the raucous, familial scenes of the proverbial "Jan Steen household," not only conceptually, but also with an adept technical handle. A mix of the fortuitous and the unabashedly orchestrated, the artist carefully engineers her compositions which are often obstructed by the natural inclinations of her unruly subjects. Each photograph is the product of a series of shots filled with edits and retakes, later digitally compiled into one single photograph, presenting the viewer with a dynamic glimpse into an almost impossibly bold and comical domestic landscape loaded with minute details and subplots.
Julie Blackmon was named American Photo's "Emerging Photographer of 2008" and one of Photo District News' "30 New and Emerging Photographers" in 2007. She has been the recipient of various awards including first prize from The Santa Fe Center for Photography in the Project Competition in 2006. Blackmon's work is included in numerous museums and public collections including that of George Eastman House, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, and Portland Art Museum.
The New Yorker
September 6, 2010
Blackmon's digitally collaged photographs of young children and toddlers, including several of her own, have the high polish of vintage magazine illustrations and an appropriately colorful palette. Although parents occasionally intrude on these scenarios (tossing a baby into the air, pulling a sled), this is primarily a child's world, sparked by fantasy and the spirit of play. And, because kids drive these mostly suburban scenes, the staging is subverted by a spontaneous, random quality - a sense that, despite the meticulous art direction, things are a little out of control. The work's frankly synthetic gloss can be off-putting, but its antic charm is hard to resist.
The Village Voice
October 6, 2010
Child Protective Services would probably want to visit several of the families depicted in Julie Blackmon's photographs, if any of the households were real. Inspired by Jan Steen, a 17th-century painter noted for scenes of raucous families, Blackmon meticulously assembles tableaux of unsupervised children, who often appear on the verge of harm. In Tinker Toys, a boy stands precariously at the top of a bookcase, while a preoccupied girl, seated below in the darkened room, stares at the floor, indifferent to the raging infant on her lap. Drowning seems like a possibility in The Power of Now (a reference to the self-help bestseller) — lounging adults pay no attention to a face-down boy in a pool, or to his naked friend perched on its edge.
But Blackmon winks at our unease by stylizing the drama. Figures and props are carefully arranged and color-coordinated, shot over a period of days, then seamlessly pieced together in Photoshop. The soft, painterly textures, enhanced by the pigment prints, only add to your sense of skillful contrivance. In the masterful, dreamlike High Dive, with its country setting moodily darkened by twilight, parents dining outside a mansion ignore potential danger on a balcony, where a group of kids — one of them holding up a toddler — are flinging dolls into a wading pool. A few of the pictures here slip into affected cuteness (like ads for Target), but when Blackmon follows more devilish inclinations, her work carries disquieting power.