Ross Bleckner Reflects on His Own Mortality
Ross Bleckner received his Bachelor of Arts degree from NYU and his Master of Fine Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia California. He is well-known for his large-scale paintings in the art world and his works have been shown in esteemed public collections throughout the world, including MoMA, MoCA, Astrup Fearnley, Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Mr. Bleckner is also recognized as the youngest artist ever to have a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
In addition to Mr. Bleckner's works, he has taught at many of the nation's most prestigious universities. Additionally, he is president of Community Research Initiative on AIDS (CRIA), a non-profit community-based AIDS research and treatment education center.
Question: How does acknowledging mortality affect your art?
Bleckner: I’m not a political artist in an overt way. I don’t make statements. And it’s not in your face but I see myself and I see all paintings as essentially political in the sense that politics is a responsibility to deal with history and the history of how do you make your experience relevant and how do you communicate that experience to other beings, other people, younger people. I’ve always been really fascinated with… In a sense, I called them the trophies of production. The… In a way, it’s most like… I’m interested in what it all [boils down to]. I was interested to that when I was 22. I’ve kept journals. You see things repeated over and over. I’ve read obituaries since I’m 19 years old, everyday. And I do it without a sense of morbidity. I really do it. ‘Cause to me, its most like living your life in reverse. You have to look at the end and think about the life you would have wanted to live and then do it. And that sense of mortality was… I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it was just the pessimism of growing up in a post-depression, Jewish family where you hear stories of everything from starving to poverty to holocaust, who knows. But I’ve always done it. I always look and I always see lives. That’s what the obituary is, the life boil down. And, you know, you can’t help judging. You know, a life boil down to service, a life boil down to being in a community, a life boil down to contribution, also the life boil down to the golf club. I mean, obviously, I always knew which side of that I wanted to be on. And I was always very aware. And my work always… Even before AIDS, I thought it’s almost like… I think it was [IB]. You know, I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on. And I always felt that, I can’t, I must, I will. You know, it’s almost like I read the paper, I look around, you know the situation. And you have to get up in the morning and you have to say to yourself, nevertheless, these are the things that I’m going to do. And this is what I want to bring in to the world, maybe slowly, maybe it takes time. And over a period of time, hopefully, there’s that sense of optimism and that sense of responsibility and that sense of joyfulness even if… even if it comes through a kind of sense of commemoration and a [melancholia]. Which I think are the 2 poles of everybody’s work.
The painter reads obituaries to remind him of the purpose of life.
- What distinguishes humans is social learning — and teaching.
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