Blake Palmer prefers for his art to speak for itself although he does enjoy the occasional guilty pleasure of eavesdropping anonymously upon conversations when his work is being shown. ‘Some artists get pretty obsessive-compulsive about their artistic agenda,’ he says, ‘but I certainly keep it open-ended and open-minded. Although it can be sometimes hilarious to hear what some people have to say as they’re trying to interpret it.’
On the other hand, he enjoys comments that echo a viewer’s pure pleasure of seeing his work. A favorite came from Mariah Mellus of the Utah Film Center and a frequent contributor to SLUG magazine. ‘She commented on Facebook about how much she loved the Twiggy hairstyle and posing by one of the models in my work,’ he recalls.
One of four invited artists to this year’s Utah Arts Festival, Palmer (Booth 92) is doing his first show at the event’s Artists’ Marketplace. Last year, he was one of ten artists commissioned by Salt Lake City Weekly to paint their newspaper distribution boxes. Earlier this spring, he had a show at the Utah Arts Festival gallery that brought the invitation to be at the festival.
While he might be a bit nervous about how his work will be received for the first time in such a large public venue, the full-time graphic designer is a veteran of experience, thanks to his wife – Cat, a photographer who is making her fifth appearance at the festival. She was one of the invited artists in 2007, and this Orange County, California native has nabbed several major awards, including a Best of Show honor from the Utah Arts Festival in 2009.
Palmer, who is from southern California and is a graduate of Fullerton College, has been a graphic designer and illustrator throughout his professional career of more than 15 years, although he originally thought about going into teaching. ‘I wasn’t the best in most of my subjects in school but art was one of the few things I was decent at, so I drew and doodled all of the time.’ Eventually, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, information that he hesitated to share with anyone outside the immediate family circle.
After he married Cat, he focused on his career and didn’t do much art but as Cat’s portfolio of artistic photography grew and was shown at galleries, he started to listen to his inner senses that art could help fulfill his desire for creative expression.
One image he kept returning to was a drawing of a Native American (see above) he did in 1995. ‘I kept that piece because it generated the same feeling you get with great songs that you keep returning to, he recalls.
That image became his muse for making a run at developing a creative platform as an artist. However, he also knew that he could not risk becoming derivative and that’s where his graphic design skills became among his most important tools. ‘As a graphic designer, you accumulate this amazing catalogue of all sorts of images,’ he says. ‘But my problem was that I was still stumbling a bit about how to get my own interpretations of these images out onto a physical piece.’
He ‘got ballsy,’ – as he recalls – and applied to exhibit his work at Art Access/VSA Utah and while he didn’t make the cut, he was eligible to participate in the partners’ program which matches talented adult artists with disabilities with professional artists for mentoring. ‘I was hesitant at first because I always tried to hide my dyslexia as much as possible,’ he explains.
Palmer is glad he resisted his hesitation, as he was paired with Trent Call, a prominent Utah artist who works extensively in mixed media and fuses his skills in academic painting and drawing with a strong interest in graffiti, comics, graphics, and pattern.
Indeed, it was a perfect match as Palmer was interested in mixed media forms and incorporating his own take on sources of influence such as Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol (an artist with which he has a love-hate relationship), artists from the Dadaist movement, and the aesthetic philosophy of chance and indeterminacy.
‘I wanted to develop a strongly defined sense of controlled chaos,’ Palmer explains, adding that his familiarity with the printing elements of graphic design immediately popped up for helping me develop my mixed media techniques. Therefore, he is able to visualize and work with layer upon layer in his work and achieve something similar to what one might accomplish digitally with Adobe Product software such as Photoshop or Illustrator.
Likewise, Palmer has finessed his skills for experimenting in his work. ‘There are no test pieces. Everything is live,’ he says, adding that he doesn’t sketch out his work in advance. Even as he prepares the background on his boards, he lets his intuitive sense for chance and indeterminacy guide how he throws colors onto his working canvas. He prefers to work on a dozen or more pieces at a time, always looking to incorporate some element that he has not tried previously.
There is a marvelously serendipitous sense of how all of Palmer’s elements come together in his work. A photo of the early morning fog during a family vacation in Oregon can become the transfer image for a work that is created six months or longer afterward. Or, he’ll photograph his own models adding props that might include axes or chainsaws.
Often, he will not have a final decision about which image or photo will go with a background, instead making it a trial-and-error process. He builds his layers as he uses sandpaper to smooth out the previous layers. With the transfer process, he places the image face down, so he can’t see the image as he blocks the space for layers and colors by using masking tape. This emphasizes his strong preference for negative space in his artistic composition.
Palmer’s subject matter for images is unquestionably showcasing the vibrant, durable strength of women. As for media elements, he’ll test out acrylic paints, vintage wallpaper, wax, fabric, metal, Xerox transfers, charcoal, pencil, chalk, and every other imaginable material.
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