Carolyn Blackwood, the Accidental Artist
It’s not her fault that she trips into careers. She hadn’t intended to become a lead singer for jazz bands, she just fell into it while in graduate school. Same with the years she spent as a tv producer in France. And now photography: It’s not her fault that the skies over the Hudson River, the view from her office/pied de terre/home-away-from-home in Rhinecliff, are, as she puts it, “biblical.”
“I had been taking pictures for years,” says Carolyn Marks Blackwood, whose real career, Magnolia Mae Films, which she co-owns with Gaby Tana, produced 2008’s The Duchess, and, coming out next fall, Corialanus, directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes with Vanessa Redgrave. “A few years ago, the Morton Library in Rhinebeck asked me to put 10 pieces in a group show.” It was there that Blackwood’s images of the Hudson River caught the attention of the esteemed critic and curator Barbara Rose, who asked if she could include some of Blackwood’s work in a show on modern luminism, The Magic Hour, that she was curating at a New York gallery. “It’s as if I’d been playing softball in a field in Rhinebeck, and somebody said, ‘Would you like to play for the Yankees?’ ”
The Alan Klotz Gallery in Chelsea is now Blackwood’s gallery, where her first solo show in New York opens this week. It is also where an art director from Knopf happened upon an image of Blackwood’s, which is now on the cover of New Yorker poet Deborah Digges’ posthumously-published book, The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart. Blackwood has used a shortened version of that title for her show.
“Have you seen the documentary, Bill Cunningham New York?,” Blackwood asks. “As he’s accepting the order of arts and letters from the French Ministry of Culture, he says, ‘He who seeks beauty will find it.’ ” Blackwood’s beauty, like Cunningham’s, is all about knowing where and how to look. Everyone knows that birds are beautiful. But in Blackwood’s photographs, taken in fields immediately following the harvest, when the flocks descend en masse to feast on seeds, the birds create patterns against the sky that are at once exquisite and menacing. Similar patterning marks her luridly colorful images of fish in overcrowded tanks at the Dutchess County Fair, and her overhead close-ups of the ice on the Hudson as it breaks up around the Rhinecliff dock. Through Blackwood’s lens, the ice looks, as one critic infamously said of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, like an explosion in a shingle factory. Only here, the shingles are made of glass.
All of these—fish, ice, birds—are in the new show, but the centerpiece is that biblical sky. There is no context to those images, no down here is the ground, up there is the sky. She presents the sky one little painterly chunk at a time. The way Blackwood sees it, those heavens are no placid paradise.
The Wind Blows Through My Heart, Carolyn Marks Blackwood Photographs
Alan Klotz Gallery
511 W. 25th Street, Suite 701, New York
May 12 - June 25; opening reception, Thursday, May 12, 6 - 8 p.m.