Richard Blackwell

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Born in Canberra, Australia in 1987, Richard Blackwell graduated with honours and a
University medal from the Printmedia+Drawing Department of the Australian National
University in 2008. His work has been featured in shows around the Australia,
including exhibitions at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art in early 2009 and
more recently group and solo shows at Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne, M16
artspace in Canberra and at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space’s annual
emerging artists show BLAZE:4.
In 2009 Richard was awarded a prestigious ‘New Work’ grant by the Australia
Council for the Arts and will be displaying the results in a multitude of solo efforts in
the following years. Richard now works at the ANU teaching a course called ‘digital
drawing’ amongst others.
Working within a context of contemporary drawing, Richard prolifically creates small
and large scale works in a multitude if materials. His open approach to art practice
sees him making works from small pieces of embossed paper, to 20 ft wide wall
panels and 400+ piece cardboard installations. Richard is interested in the
possibilities of new technologies and often utilizes large scale, industrial
manufacturing processes (such techniques that can be found in the advertising and
furniture industry) to achieve his vision. Despite being unbound by the limitations of
the ‘hand made’ Richard utilizes this approach to address very tried and true
methods of illusion and mark making that have been exploited by painters and printmakes
for centuries. By doing this Richard wants to address not only the act of
making art in a contemporary society but the way in which people perceive reality in
this context. Despite being highly formal considered ‘drawings’ in there own right
Richard asks his work to tell their secrets. His objects attempt to be deceptive about
what they really are, whilst simultaneously revealing their home truths.


“My intention is to create work which intersects divergent contemporary realities. These include the finite spaces we physically inhabit, the built environment we place in those spaces and the architecture of virtual reality that we produce and is infinite. I seek to create a platform that reveals (to some degree), the condition of being an artist and the action of making things in that context.”


Richard Blackwell






by Roy Marchant
Entry into a grotto is by definition a journey into ornamentation, a structure in which threads of reality combine to link the experience. Richard Blackwell examines this context as a retreat, a customary interior from which to interpret the world. The degree of remove between observation and translation locate Grotto in the vicinity of the contemporary cave, a retreat in which the screen is now established as the ritual enabler of images. Blackwell’s virtual caves invite discovery, but are pleasurably disconnected from a tour of established relics. Although ‘Under Construction’ Blackwell’s sites are very much open for inspection, while the archaeology of Grotto’s conduits is positively suspended between the physical retreat and virtual refuge, a lapse in recognition is now a function of ones location.
Throughout Grotto, the primitivism of Blackwell’s connections hover like an overseer. Our habitation of the virtual world is referred back to the visual ancestry of cave drawings in which imagery provided assimilation with intended prey. In Grotto the retreat of the screen provides the seclusion of the cave in which imagery is once again the arbitrator. By presenting a digitised geology Blackwell codes the point of entry, there is a latent fine print in operation. These openings can be seen as temporal gateways to extended virtual absorption or reinterpreted as x-rays with which to objectify such an encounter. Blackwell holds the viewer on the periphery of admission.
The point of assemblage has been the staple foundation in Blackwell’s previous architectural ciphers such as the Supermolet1. Once again used as a device, Blackwell’s suspension or erasure of visual evolution interrupts the sequence of location in Grotto to become either a prequel or sequel; perhaps they are one and the same? Although the former offers a utopian invitation, the conjoined axis of the Supermolet denies entry or even the obligatory fly-through. Here the spectator is once again held externally by the image, accommodation is strictly off plan; Blackwell continually criss-crosses the codes of habitation, tempting the reward of a physical outcome ever closer. Is the grotto this endpoint, an amalgam of over-anticipation and underdevelopment and therefore are the physical objects within Blackwell’s Grotto the debris or evidence of such collisions?
When first encountered the objects presented within Grotto appear to conclude the visual narrative surrounding them; either as tangible proof of some implied, but unseen impact or as attributed models. Although they do propose a scale, it is indeterminate and thus confirms the slippery nature of the meeting. Critically Blackwell’s objects share an affinity with the Surrogates of Allan McCollum and the ‘model’ buildings of Julian Opie. In reference to McCollum, Hal Forster describes such a transformation “into an object of critical play”2.
Seemingly ejected from his codified universe, Blackwell’s objects interrupt the expectation of the image as merely blueprints to physical exchange; they contain faults as deliberate points of inspection. This interruption of serial production prevents the objects within Grotto from becoming simply replicas of translation. They are incomplete; identity is deferred. The implied geology of the images is re-mapped through folded veneers and additionally herded by a latent geometry. Blackwell stops this mask short of a deception by leaving the seal incomplete. The void becomes the heart of their integrity, the goods are reassuringly faulty; Lynne Cooke describes a similar attribute in relation to the “assertive oddness” of Opie’s buildings.3
The ‘geology’ of Grotto navigates the juncture of dislocation, a series of purposeful faults from which the viewer can elect to remain pleasantly suspended examining a loop of visual orders; to what extent we are willing to inhabit this illusion? Presented as the artefacts within Grotto, Blackwell’s tempting division of scale offers another proposition with these objects; consolation or continuation… do we wish to retreat from the experience and take our prize now or allow the faults to recalibrate an entry?



by Patsy Payne
This grotto is a strange place. Are these voluminous forms or are they caverns? Are these surfaces flat or bent? When I am immersed in the video projection am I speeding toward a future or receding into the past? The crystalline structures are recognisable but strange hybrids. There is an unsolvable paradox in all of Richards pieces for Grotto – they are teasing us as he has done in past works with a to and fro between the physical and the virtual, between the two dimensional and illusions of three dimensionality. Everything appears to occupy space and it does so as a thin veneer – it is an insistently flattened space.
Richard articulates his intention as a desire to create work which intersects divergent contemporary realities. These asteroid belts and caves are crystalline and geological. Richard is working flat surfaces to create shadows and an illusion of three dimensional structure. There is a wonderful contrast between the actual mass of these forms and their spatial and physical presence. They are spiky protuberances that make the viewer shy away from their sharp edges and yet they are supremely flat.
Is there an in-between space for making things in a world where space is no longer solely defined by physical parameters? Is there potential to create a space that is more real virtually than it would be physically? How do people exist and co-exist in the architecture of virtual reality when it is infinite? There are a series of dualities that Richard began to explore during his undergraduate studies. He uses these dualities to bemuse the viewer and then lead them to an alternative perspective for understanding new virtual, computational realities. Flat and thick is a duality arising out of consideration of the three dimensional illusion that shimmers on the flat surface of the computer screen. Back and forth, in and out is an expression of the illusion of three dimensionality delivered on smoothly finished fabricated material surface.
This new work of Richard’s connects strongly to a scientific obsession with crystal structures. The endless variety of crystal shapes that emerge in the moment of crystallization became an obsession for Wilson Bentley, who spent a lifetime photographing snowflakes. “What magic is there in the rule of six that compels the snowflake to conform so rigidly to its laws?” he asked in 1910. He proved that no two snowflakes are alike by documenting 5,381 individual crystals falling behind his farmhouse. The rule of six is a binding rule of transformation, an algorithm that connects the movement from “six” to “no two are alike.”
Richard’s project structures the formless matter of the universe in order that it can be recognisable in the realm of substance, organization, and material. He takes naturally occurring geometries and processes them to create endless iterations which suggest infinite possibility. There is wonder here – the source of wonder behind one crystal is the elusive internal logic that remains resolute and unmoving through all crystals. Richard’s work traces the movement between a state of potential and manifest structure – the structure of a hollow form or the structure of an asteroid rock.
“Grotto” is a word that conjures up dark spaces that are mysterious and dripping with stalactite like forms. The Latin grupta means crypt and suggests an underworld. The creation of artificial grottoes in Italian and French gardens was fashionable in the mid 16th C. The outside of these grottoes often appeared like an enormous rock or rustic porch and inside might be temples, fountains, stalactites or imitation gems.
Richard’s grotto is a fabrication. His caves and asteroids refer to material in the world whilst steadfastly remaining in the virtual world and really only able to enter our space on the surface of materials that are thin and flat: MDF, veneers, digital projections or paper. What size are these structures? Are they minute or giant; in the digital realm scale is arbitrary. Richard’ structures and shapes are visually compelling, geological yet strongly abstract, physically present yet illusory.
“Grotto” is a paradox.