Christie Blizard Defies Art Labels in ‘The Absorption of Meaning’ and Beyond

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Levente Sulyok's "AdLib," Inkjet prints on panel (28), metal matrix, platform, clear water and brushes, 80" x 80" x 36" 2014-present.

Christie Blizard has mud wrestled with Willem de Kooning, jumped out of a plane with art sewn into her sleeve, and snuck art onto two major TV network’s morning broadcasts. There’s something both profound and endearing about her art, which dances on the line of the absurd. Blizard brings the opining grandiosity of high art to an accessible level, playing provocateur in the uncharted zones between philosophy, painting, poetry and sculpture. Like Lewis Hyde’s definition of a trickster, she is a “lord of in-between.” Acting in this space, Blizard’s interventions question the meaning and role of contemporary art.

This month is particularly busy for Blizard, who moved to San Antonio three years ago to become an Associate Professor for Painting and Sculpture at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has curated a show, “Painting can be a vampire,” with Nate Cassie, Judy Rushin, and Levente Sulyok that is on display at the UTSA Main Gallery through Feb. 19; her solo show, “The Absorption of Meaning” is on exhibit at Sala Diaz through Feb. 20; and, for the closing of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum’s “Gift: An Exquisite Exhibition,” Blizard offers two live performances this Thursday, Feb.  4 from 8-9 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 5 from 7-7:30 p.m.

Christie Blizard sits with "#thecouch2016" by Nate Cassie.
Christie Blizard sits with “#thecouch2016” by Nate Cassie.

“There was a time when I was vehemently opposed to performance art,” said Blizard, whose artistic beginnings were more traditional. She grew up in Columbus, Ind., and attended Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. When she began her MFA program at Georgia State, she found herself “as a lonely painter in a painting program that was filled with performance artists.”

“I was into very quiet, poetic art objects. I loved Giorgio Morandi and I still do, but my graduate program was really performance based… It was more like they just couldn’t read a painting. The feedback for three years was, ‘it was boring… but it turned out to be the best experience I’ve ever had because it made me the artist that I am now.”

Blizard’s interventions resist categorization. As an anonymous individual in a crowd holding a sign over her head, getting smeared and covered with mud, or flying through the air, she cannot be “fixed” into one place. Yet all of her actions are defined by a boldness. Blizard selects activities that require a bravery and fearlessness, not just because they may be jumping out of a plane or facing down authority, but also because she is doing them in a subversive manner.

“I found a power there that became the way for me to best express my ideas,” said Blizard. “And then it just became fun….The last thing I had to confront was the idea of poetry in my work, that was the thing I had to let go and embrace this more kind of aggressive, humorous, ironic or satirical gestures.”

Blizard’s art differs from performance art in two ways.

“I’m not interested in myself performing a role, or like something that’s really super constructed,” Blizard said. By participating in existing situations like such as morning shows or standup comedy, “I’m just performing a role that already exists….I try to find situation that I will be in that might require my body to do an activity, but I’m not going to go stage a theatrical thing.”

Secondly, Blizard is “more interested in being the conceptual director of the work.” For example, Blizard hired performers for the opening night of her Sala Diaz show and for the two performances that will be held at Blue Star this week.

This gravitation towards the conceptual puts Blizard in line with artists like Daniel Bozhkov and Andy Kaufman, who she cites as inspirations. Bozhkov is a visual and conceptual artist who also works beyond the confines of the art world, for example, as a greeter at Walmart, or the creator of a crop circle, which appeared on the Larry King Show. Kaufman is an actor and performance artist who is most known for playing the character, Latka, on Taxi. Like these two artists, Blizard ventures out of the art world’s insular bounds to experiment with how art is received. This prompts important questions about the function of art, almost like market testing, except that Blizard’s is a philosophical, not a commercial, inquiry.

The Sala Diaz exhibit features video documentation of Blizard’s three past performances on morning television, two on the Today show and one on Good Morning America. Blizard also made gifts for viewers to take away, including reflective Mylar balloons and t-shirts with different sayings from some of her paintings. The show’s title, “The Absorption of Meaning,” originates from the wording on one of the signs Blizard held up on TV. Her actions are not in outright defiance; rather they are subversive through wit and humor.

“I’m pushing a tolerance level of what they find,” said Blizard. “Good Morning America has asked me to put signs down. I don’t want anything to be threatening. Again, it’s like creating a poetic experience within the context of the show. The Today show keeps allowing me back in, but there’s definitely questions, of course. It’s out of the norm. It’s just interesting what their limits are with that… And I find that fascinating.”

Her art remains deeply connected with painting. By taking it outside its cultural norm, Blizard experiments with where the genre can exist. “In the Today show, I literally hold up a painting, so part of it is the interventionist idea of putting those on television, but at the same time, I’m trying to reframe painting through television and test accessibility through that way,” said Blizard. “…I think there’s such an agency of the history of painting that can add dimension to these acts….there’s a tension there, an incompatibility that I think is good.”

Blizard plays off of the power structures within art history, for example, taking on the heady male authority of Abstract Expressionism when she mud-wrestled with De Kooning.

There is a communal, social component in Blizard’s work that is visible throughout the show she curated at UTSA. In “Why We Hate Abstract Painting Right Now,” Glasstire’s Christina Rees explained how art becomes timeless. Ironically, the best art emerges from artists who are the most immersed and responsive to what’s happening in their time, and who want to communicate something new.

Blizard’s aesthetic is deeply responsive to today’s digital, social and geopolitical changes. “Painting can be a vampire” offers painting that extends beyond the canvas into virtual space and in the minds and spaces of others, touched by the hands of others, and in the conceptual, formative thoughts of others. Yet the pieces are still grounded by formal aspects such as their presence in the space, how the light works with them and the use of color.

Nate Cassie’s “#thecouch2016 is a dimensional painting. Viewers are instructed to sit down, take a selfie and post it to Instagram. This is the latest incarnation of an ongoing project that Cassie began as a graduate student in 1993,  and involves the San Antonio arts community.

An installation view of Nate Cassie's "The Couch Series," 2008-present

An installation view of Nate Cassie’s “The Couch Series,” 2008-present

Judy Rushin created “Variance Invariance,” a mobile artwork that was mailed to various people. The components came with open-ended instructions that allowed the recipients to arrange and install it in various settings and arrangements. Documentation of these intances is on exhibit.  Rushin’s “Mobile Monuments” exists somewhere between painting and sculpture, combining both elements into enchanting towers of color and texture.

Sulyok works with commercial images from financial institutions and loan advertisements, partially erasing away the messages and images. This is a form of resistance against the flow of power and consumption. One of his pieces allows viewers to paint over these modified images, in order to recreate the originals into new images.

Blizard’s show at Sala Diaz, “The Absorption of Meaning” will feature a live performance for the show’s closing on Feb. 20.

*Top Image:  Levente Sulyok’s “AdLib,”  Inkjet prints on panel (28), metal matrix, platform, clear water and brushes, 80″ x 80″ x 36″ 2014-present

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