|A STUDY IN CONTRASTS
Art star Ross Bleckner is noisily chewing bubble gum. Between chomps, he is guiding me, page by dutiful page, through an expansive limited edition book of his photography, Page Three (Twelve Trees Press). Were sitting in his bare office in the six-story building on White Street where his studio is located. He leafs through the book, establishing the pace: a homoerotic flower, a magnification of newspaper text, a bushy crack of ass, a bell-shaped scrotum. Its a very personal tour.
Its about my work, about my life and the things you see, he says. Pressed to translate the cryptic remark, he is interrupted by a ringing phone. He picks up the receiver. Soon hes barking at the person on the other end: Im doing an interview with my favorite magazine. You know which one. Its the only magazine I read more than your magazine.
Bleckner doesnt bite. In a way, hes just like his dachshund, Mini; both are impossible but sweet, playful yet conscientious. No matter how many times Mini is made to fetch, she always brings back the ball to the exact same place where she last put it between my legs. Similarly, after every call, Bleckner always returns to the exact place where he left off.
Every day in The New York Times on page three, he says, theres an international picture of a disaster, and always in the same place a Tiffanys ad. What I started doing was photographing page three when theres a particularly poignant juxtaposition of luxury and tragedy. The photo Page Three documents Tiffanys ad copy (Picnic in the Park, Time of Your Life) adjoining real-life horror photos of dead soldiers, aborted babies and war-torn cities.
An important protagonist in the international art scene, one of the most political and socially inclined painters, certainly one of the most affluent gay men in New York City, Bleckner looks like he just got out of bed, dressed in a black shirt and loose sweatpants. A pioneer of the late-20th-century revival in American painting, he refuses to render narrative paintings based on the human figure. Thats what a camera is for! Bleckner exclaims. The painter is a study in frisky contradictions.
Smart, nutty and brassy, Bleckner curses like a truck driver. But his paintings, many of them muted in color, do not clamor for attention. His voice may rise to a grinding and brassy pitch, but his work reveals an artist of subtle temperament. Born in 1949 and raised in the affluent Long Island suburb of Hewlett Harbor, he demystifies clichés about starving New York artists. He grew up a rich kid, the son of a parts manufacturer. His parents actively supported his art.
Bleckner is a lyric poet, more shaded in feeling than many of his American contemporaries. His natural mood runs to the elegiac and melancholy. In such oil-on-linen canvasses as One Day Fever: (1986), One Wish (1986) and Memorial (1994), the blacks and whites melt into atmospheric shadows and forms. Mournful chandeliers, funeral urns, dark roses and glowing dots wistfully float, pulsate and swoop across a nocturnal ether. He offers affirmation of beauty and light, despite the ghostly preoccupation with wasted lives, personal disasters and events out of control.
President of the board of the Community Research initiative on AIDS, hes one of the few major American artists who insert AIDS into their dialogue and instill dark human commentary in their art. Bleckner is a painter of life and death, fragility and remembrance, the gay worlds artist of the gloaming. His other new book, Ross Bleckner: Watercolors (Arena Editions), gathers together nature studies concocted by the minds opiated eye. They are wild excursions into feverish mysteries, illustrating geometric shapes, blotchy surfaces, baroque lines and splotchy patterns.
Bleckners large-scale abstractions are celebratory and investigative. Theres a wishful beauty lurking behind the sad pall. In Victoria Leacocks Signature Flowers: A Revealing Collection of Celebrity Drawings (Broadway Books), Bleckner renders a bold, stark flower where the dark-brown petals gloomily overwhelm the bright-yellow airy spaces in between. That flower is like being gay, he says. We are the spaces in between. The flowers squiggly stem evokes a sperm tail.
In my new paintings, he says, each canvas is an inside view of what the paintings before them are. Its just the vantage point totally changes. They are like a microscopic view of immune cellular activity. Its like a sequence.
Through his art lifts the rocks at the bottom to see what crawls beneath, Bleckner wants it known that hes actually a fun, happy and romantic guy. And hes looking for dates. Im looking for someone sweet, gentle, nice, sexy and hot, all that stuff, he says. Hes got a live-in companion, Eric, but they have an open relationship. Im very accessible. Im not some successful asshole with attitude. I like to have a good time. The only way for me to have a good time is when lots of boys know who I am.
"Why done this matter so much
It doesnt matter so much, he replies. Its just one of the things that matter.
Bleckner seeks to cultivate a legendary status. But not like Picasso, he adds. I want to be gay legendary a gay/gendary. He erupts in laughter, looking strangely triumphant. Dont forget to put my telephone number in the article.
I warn him that psychotic callers might hound him. Believe me, I can handle psychotic callers, he says.
The phone rings again. As usual, Bleckner answers it himself.
Sorry, guys. Hes not listed in the book.
|Bleckner Blabs About
HIS STATUS AS AN INFLUENTIAL GAY MAN: It means that youve accomplished something in your life and that you might be able to help other people out when you can. If you like the work of young artist, you can help them along in their career in some way that might be beneficial. Thats having an influence. That to me is a good thing.
THE GAY WORLDS A-LIST: Theyre all my friends. I dont think theres anything wrong with being successful. Theres nothing wrong with desiring to be successful. And theres certainly nothing wrong with somebody who is interested in people who are successful. It usually means theyve done something in their lives that warrants it.
SEX: Tricks are something I gave up a long time ago. Dates are with people whom I could through a conversation with. Affairs are for people whom you enjoy spending more time than just having a conversation.
GAY MARRIAGE: Im not interested. I think its a side issue. I think its a waste of energy and resources to concentrate on it. It seems to me to be too complicit with the mainstream. I dont give a shit what straight people think about gay people. I think gay people need to be a little more defiant about that shit.
CURE FOR AIDS: In my Utopia, yes, theres a solution. But Im not a Utopian. Im a pragmatist, and there doesnt seem to be anything out there. Even when there is something out there, it takes another 10 years to develop, market and distribute it. Were talking well into the next century. So more resources should be aimed at prevention.