On the evening of Friday June 5, I stopped into a real estate office located at 870 Virginia Avenue, the outside wall of which is painted with a mural entitled “The Lovers of Indianapolis” by Christian Quentin. But I wasn’t in the market for real estate and I was familiar with Quentin’s mural.
I had come to see a solo—one-night-only—show of Blasko’s paintings.
And while Quentin’s mural, which was part of the “46 for XLVI” murals program, evokes Grant Wood’s depression-era painting “Spring Turning” with its stylized depiction of rolling hills under a blue sky, most of the work that Blasko (Steven Edwards) has evokes a more contemporary milieu.
That’s not to say Blasko doesn’t evoke other artists, he does — Vincent Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and Basquiat, among them — but his subjects are often set smack-dab in the 21st century.
The first floor of the exhibit on this night had a variety of his paintings, mostly mixed media on cardboard, landscapes and abstract work and portraits.
I was struck by his work on the second floor. For example, his painting entitled “Merry Go Round,” (mixed media, spray, and house paint on cardboard) which depicts a woman and a horse in the foreground, bloody hand prints and the spray painted word “Gaza” in the background. Blasko was referring to in this painting to the succession of deadly wars in the Gaza Strip leading up to the latest conflict in the summer of 2014 in which the ratio of civilian deaths was 300 Palestinians for every one Israeli.
“Every so often they go back and do the same thing,” Blasko told me over the phone, referring to the Israelis. “It’s a continual violence machine. I thought of a merry go round...”
There were other equally provocative paintings on display as well, including another mixed media painting entitle “Thought Control,” in which you can see a swastika, and a nun looking through a strip club dancer’s legs. There’s a lot conceptually going on, not to mention an impressive use of contrast—the portrait of the nun is entirely in black and white—while the dancer’s legs and high heels are in color. And there’s also evidence of a firm grounding in portraiture.
Of the thematic currents in this painting Blasko said, “I went to Catholic school for a couple years as a kid and it had a big impression on me... Overwhelming pressure is put on you. “
He grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from North Central High School. He did his undergrad at the University of Southern Indiana, majoring in Studio Art, and returned to Indianapolis in 2008. Around three years ago he got a studio at the Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC). His day job’s actually a night job—as a night club bouncer (doing which, he says, he gets some of his more provocative, “visceral” artistic ideas).
“I started trying to develop a style once I got my studio,” Blasko explained. “A lot the early work I was doing a lot of expressionistic landscape and symbolic self-portraits that looked nothing like me. From there I basically was trying to get deeper into my own psyche, I started using spray paint and other paint media instead of just oil paint to get to something more believable that wasn't artificial.”
A number of his paintings seem to be wrestling with the issue of identity. “Self Portrait in a Strange Mirror” portrays a yellow-skinned male subject in an abstracted way that recalls early Modernist painters while “My Master Leads” portrays a subject with the face of a black woman with a white body from the head down. “Buck Shot,” portrays the opposite.
BLASKO happens to be African American but prefers not to be labelled as a “Black artist” or an “African-American artist.” And while some work has African American subjects and/or themes, much of it doesn’t.
“He’s [simply] an artist,” painter Katrina Murray told me over the phone. Murray’s a neighbor of Blasko at the CCIC.
Murray admires the way Blasko works with cardboard as a support medium and works with whatever he has at hand, whether it’s aerosol, oil paint, or house paint. “He can draw it, he can spray it, he can paint it,” Murray told me. “I know of several who’ve offered to give him canvases and it’s interested that he’s resisted that. He’s kept his guns on using this material that... is not archival. But I think that it lends itself to his way of working where he’s channeling what’s going on in the world at that particular moment.”
This First Friday, Blasko’s 2nd story studio at the CCIC will be open from 6-9 pm.
Murray, who calls Blasko one of the “hidden gems” at the CCIC and in Indianapolis, told me that BLASKO was slow to show his work to the public as he honed his style and didn’t even open up his studio on IDADA First Fridays for his first year.
“I had to convince him to do it,” Murray said.