The first time I saw a piece by Lucas Blalock was in early 2016, during the Reconstructions photography exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I was studying his work, a woman standing next to me seemed disgusted. “What the hell is that? This is art? I guess they’re running out of ideas.” Her voiced opinion began to stain mine, causing me to question my own taste. After spending more time with the piece, I realized I wasn’t angry at the woman; I was angry with myself as a photographer for not thinking of Blalock’s approach first.
Both Chairs in CW’s Living Room caught my attention when I noticed the tan chunk of wall misplaced onto the upper left hand corner of the frame. I began to see all of the other things that were out of place: the chair legs, the carpet, and the curtain. All of it made me very uneasy. The mismatching, cheap-looking patterns and miserable colors trapped me in someone’s great aunt’s house; suddenly I could smell fruitcake. As my eyes jerked around the unpleasant, trashy decor in the photo, I felt the flabby weight of middle class America. I sifted through my emotions and realized I shared an opinion with the grousing woman: Why?
As the months passed, I noticed Blalock’s work popping up in galleries all over New York; amid confusion and furrowed brows and more dismissive observations from drive-by critics: “He’s so hot right now, can’t understand why” and a unified chant of “My five year old could do this.” The slurs seemed rooted in a general distaste for Minimalist art. What is it about abject simplicity in art that angers so many? Is it envy of a successful artist? The illusion of a lack of effort? Is it that the viewer struggles to find purpose in the work? Despite a thunderous, negative drumbeat around me, I found Blalock’s work brought me to a place of delicious frustration. I was hooked.
After a little research, I found his creative process and seemingly off-key composition wasn’t as “simple” as it seemed. Blalock sets up a studio in his cramped New York City apartment and photographs meticulously placed items on a large format analog camera; then makes his darkroom prints, finally scanning the prints to be photo-shopped to his liking.
The thirty-nine-year-old’s work can be recognized by its heavy-handed, reality-distorting editing and dismal, dollar store content. At first glance, it looks as if he uses the cloning tool with his eyes closed. The results are jarring, something you can’t stop studying. The chaotic element of his cloning is deceptive; his chaos is thoughtfully placed, almost lulling you into his two dimensional world. The cartoonish cut-and-paste style is humorous, a playful “brain fart” causing an unwary viewer to feel pity for the pathetic objects and their unfortunate being.
I see his body of work as a necessary disruption of the pandering flow of the art scene. His Dali-esque unconscious exposes its latent content to a fumbling world. His chunky chair was a wry break in my gallery wandering that I didn’t initially appreciate. I’ve grown fond of Blalock’s work as one grows fond of an annoying sibling, with time and understanding. His absurdity has allowed me to step into an unfamiliar perspective, a pleasing (non)reality. I’m grateful to him for coaxing me away from my pretention for an afternoon and demanding more than a shallow glance. I’ve bobbed along in a scoffing sea and here I am, envying his work. I see Blalock as a fresh eye in the era of digital manipulation, where he sets a groundbreaking tone for the future of digital media.