Missing You, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
17 x 17 inches
CARL BLAIR: Old and New Show
By Wim Roefs
Nature always has been Carl Blair’s main visual inspiration – nature and the countryside in general. Even his early figurative work was never far removed from his upbringing on a Midwest farm. His wooden sculptures, of which he has just produced a new body, are of animals, some representative, all of them fanciful. They are a reminder of that farm and of Blair’s insistence that as a youngster, he spent more time with animals than with human beings.
Nature typically is the basis of his heavily abstracted paintings, whether it’s the flatlands of the Midwest or the more mountainous terrain of the South Carolina Upstate. There, Blair lives on Paris Mountain, just outside of Greenville and near Paris Mountain State Park. He has lived there since the 1970s, when the place was still mostly undeveloped.
While the current show is not a true retrospective, it nevertheless gives an overview of what Blair has done with the landscape since 1970. The earlier work in the exhibition, including Ode To An Eastern Dream of 1970, show the darker pallet he used when he moved from figuration to abstraction in the late 1950s, around the time he arrived in Greenville to teach at Bob Jones University. They indicate that Blair was mixing influences that ranged from Charles Burchfield to the Abstract Expressionists.
Those very Abstract Expressionists, Blair’s South Carolina contemporary Leo Twiggs suggested in 2006, might have instigated Blair’s move from his earlier muted pallet to the colorful spectacles he created after he grew into his own style. They showed Blair, Twiggs wrote, that “he didn’t have to draw a tree or a rock. He could use broad areas of colors, letting values and intensities define form.”
He has done so, and still does so, creating works from which colors burst off the surface and that at times seem like fireworks. He paints in wildly differing pallets and with varying degrees of color intensity. Union and Burst Of Spring, both of 1986, show the lighter but luscious, intense coloration that defines many of his 1980s’ paintings. Spring Odyssey, of 1988, continues the light, bright pallet but in an understated, even somewhat faint fashion. In the 2006 paintings in the exhibition, Blair takes a different approach, using high contrasts with black lines and saturated, often primary colors.
Spring Odyssey shows the lively hand Blair brings to his work not just as a painter but also as a draftsman. In it, he adds definition to the blots of pastel-like colors through fine, delicate lines suggestion tree limbs and trunks. Drawing is crucial in many of his 1990s monochromatic monotypes, too. Those works are also evidence that the colorist par excellence Blair doesn’t need color to pull off energetic and sure compositions.