ARTIST IN THE SPOTLIGHT | Lillian Blades
Welcome back to Cacique’s Artist In The Spotlight series - a journey into a thriving Bahamian art scene and a deeper look at some of our most celebrated talents. In this episode, we are lucky enough to spend some time with Lillian Blades, who flew the island coop long ago, but has returned to her native shores to spend a three-month residency at The Current, Baha Mar.
To the untrained eye, Lillian Blade’s textured, colorful rebellion may seem like an improvised outburst of creativity. However, Lillian's work goes way deeper than that. Her mixed-media collages capture memories and embody self-discovery while paying homage to her island-roots. With a consciousness about her, Lillian sifts through objects, random to some but symbolic to her, which morph into large-scale assemblages that provoke an intense sense of wonder. Her latest work, befittingly titled, “Where the Ocean Meets the Sand” is a large-scale piece assembled with deliberate finesse in the placement of a multitude of ‘objets trouvés’ such as dress buttons, beach flotsam, shards of mirror, as well as collaborative pieces from students of the University of The Bahamas, all cast in a palette of Bahama blues.
Cacique. where do you get your inspiration from ?
Lillian. I have been inspired by so many things along the way, but a few things will always stand out. Firstly, the improvisational compositions of quilts made by Quilters living in the hamlet of Gee’s Bend along the Alabama River. These women have produced countless patchwork masterpieces that I have drawn inspiration from and continue to do so. I’m also so inspired by abstract expressionism and the colour field paintings of Mark Rothko. These luminously coloured rectangles are intensely meaningful in every aspect. I am drawn to art that has a rich textural surface quality like the works Jack Whitten or Leonardo Drew.
C. what is integral to your work as an artist?
L. Well, this piece is a tribute to my mother who was a seamstress and the many women who do patchwork, as this has strongly impacted my artistic approach - quilt-like collage has become my artistic method of choice. There is a defined Bahamian aspect to my work too. My work has a Junkanoo-like feel to it. Much like the details of Junkanoo costumes, my work often features embellished fringes or adornments. The inclusion of images, objects and visual textures/ patterns are consistent with the theme or feeling of that particular piece. Right now, I would say that I’ve merged several disciplines into my approach to painting. They start off as paintings but are further enhanced by collage and mosaic layers. I call this technique “mixed media assemblage on wooden panels”. I am a collector and curator of objects, images and patterns in a way that evokes a feeling or mood. I usually work on wooden panels that are then hung on a wall. However, when given the opportunity, I love creating temporary wall and hanging installations that create an environment that the viewers can feel immersed in.
C. What projects are you currently working on ?
L. Well, I’ve just finished two large-scale public commissions for State Farm Arena in Atlanta and this piece for Baha Mar. I would like to now focus on a series of smaller works on paper that push the textural quality beyond what is expected from framed ‘works on paper’. They will feel like rich, textured tapestries that are meant to be suspended in a shadow box frame.
C. what do you attempt to tackle with your art ?
L. My work takes on a personal and internal dialogue within myself and for the viewer. I aim to bring the viewer into the work using their own reflection, via the fragments of mirror. I trigger memories and cultural reflections that evoke a mood or feeling. It’s less about tackling anything controversial per-say and far more about the journey that the viewer experiences with the piece.
C. where do you feel art is going, particularly here in the Bahamas ?
L. My exposure to Bahamian art has been somewhat limited since leaving Nassau for Atlanta. However, following Bahamian social media and newsletters I feel the direction is similar to what is happening around me in the US because of online exposure and Bahamian artists studying abroad. The lines are now very blurred because of this. It was so amazing to come home and have the opportunity to work in The Bahamas as so much of my inspiration comes from these islands.
C. What is the most indispensable item in your studio ?
L. Oh, without doubt, my bluetooth speaker! I listen to music and audiobooks while I work. I can work for hours and hours if I’ve got good music or a good book playing in the background. I’m captivated by either and my mind remains engaged.
Lillian invited a group of Art Majors from The University of The Bahamas to partake in “Where the Ocean Meets the Sand”. During two mixed-media art workshops that she led at The Current, the UB students made several 5”x7” pieces which she then framed to make them stand out amongst all of the components of her assemblage.
C. What under-exposed artist, gallery or work do you think more people should know about ?
L. When I first arrived at The Current to begin my residency, I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Kendra Frorup. Kendra and I worked alongside one another on our commissions for Baha Mar. I love how she uses texture and patterns that are rooted in things that we know and identify as Bahamian. The casted fruits (tamarind, sugar-apples and bananas) and printed straw patterns, for example, feel so much like home to me.
C. What is the last show that surprised you ?
L. The Collage Group Exhibition “Under Construction” at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina that my art is a part of. I was really impressed with the diversity of works dating back to the 1950s. Some artists really push the boundaries of this genre of art. This exhibition showcased over 50 artists and 100 works of art that have interpreted “collage” in an array of ways. I loved the way the contemporary artists, like myself, have pushed collage in a more mixed-media, textural direction.
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At Cacique, we love to showcase our colourful art scene and the characters that create its distinct flair. For more information about Lillian Blades or any of our other fabulous Artists In The Spotlight, or to find out about curating a unique look and sound for your event, feel free to contact us.
Looking forward to the next chat! SMS ;)