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Depicting life's complexities through art

Depicting life's complexities through art

Art knows no boundaries and it is perceived in the imagination and sensory awareness of the artist. Australian Richard Blackwell expresses his artistic imagination using materials like metal, rope, paper and paint to create abstract works that remind one of architectural interiors and building facades. His work, while being simple and bold, uses geometrical illusions and can look spatially deceptive to the untrained eye. Winner of numerous honours and awards, Blackwell's artworks are motivated by architecture and technology and are greatly influenced by the cities he has lived in and their architectural heritage.
Blackwell was born in Sydney and grew up in Canberra, where he did his bachelor's at the ANU School of Art. He was the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and moved to the US to complete his Masters in Fine Arts at the School of Art Institute of Chicago in 2014. He currently works at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQ) in an academic capacity.
Blackwell has had solo exhibitions and his works have also been part of group exhibitions in Canberra, Melbourne and Chicago. His work is an indelible part of the Australian art scene and is held in both public and private collections internationally.
Blackwell's works are currently on display at the Fire Station museum's Garage Gallery as part of residency exhibition titled 'Unfolding Creative Methods' which runs till August 19, 2017. Qatar Tribune's Dipti Nair spoke to the artist about his sculptures, his inspiration and how his works represent the complexities of the world we live in. Excerpts:

Q. Tell us about your role at VCUQ.
A. I am an assistant professor at VCUQ. In addition to teaching Sculpture and Digital Fabrication in the Painting and Printmaking and Master of Fine Arts departments, I am the coordinator of our VCUQ FabLab. The VCUQ FabLab includes a woodshop and fabrication facilities that students and faculty at the school use to complete projects and pursue their research.

How did you become an artist?
I have always been into art for as long as I can recall. I made no one decision to be an artist, I just kept following opportunities and my own skills, and here I am.

Tell us about your artwork.
My work takes a variety of forms and approaches, they are visually interesting abstract artwork and at the same time have been critically produced in conjunction with certain conceptual criteria. My sculptures reference architectural forms and approaches other forms of creative works like furniture and product design. My work is made in collaboration with technology, and is self-referential. Put in simple words, my artwork comprises visually captivating abstract images or shapes that conjure feelings of depth and space and reflect our position in an urban and technological landscape. You can also say that my work is the result of the application of systems of production designed to remind us of the complexity of the world we live in and the way in which technology effects our perception of the world.

This is a highly specialised form of art. Have you had any formal training in your form of fabrication art?
All my skills and training I have picked up as an artist, or have learned as part of my education, during undergrad and graduate studies. My practice as an artist is deeply connected to the machinery and processes which I use to produce the work, and I believe it is in constant dialogue with technology. So for me, leading a facility like I do at VCUQ is the perfect complement to what I'm doing as an artist. I feel I am the perfect resource for the school as I ask the questions in my work that the students eventually ask me about at school.

What is the work involved in creating an art piece and how long does it take you?
It varies, depending on which project we look at. My work for my Masters of Fine Arts took a lot of my attention as it was the building blocks I needed to create more work. The other projects have been more instinctive and each one has been made in less than a month. Some of my work is incredibly quick to make and some of it like the Modular Reflective Surface 1 (MRS 1) is a series of blue colour prints that I will continue to make for the rest of my life. The amount of artisan work required to make something isn't an important criteria for my work in most instances.

What inspired you to create these contemporary art pieces?
My source of inspiration has always been my perception, architecture and technology. Particularly the way that technology shapes our surroundings, our culture and self-understanding. As a big presence in contemporary life, architectural facades have been a continual visual reference for me. All of my works in the Fire Station exhibition reference architectural facades in some way.

Tell us about your sculpting work in Australia.
I have been an active artist in Australia since 2009 and similarly in Chicago from 2014. This includes regularly exhibiting works, whilst also working on public art projects, and consulting as an artist and designer. The main thrust of my career has been exhibitions though. I regularly show with Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne, and am now looking to extend my practice here, my new home in the Gulf.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a joint (with another artist) and a solo exhibition to be held in Chicago this September and Melbourne in March 2018. This will be my fifth solo exhibition in Melbourne to date.