As an interdisciplinary artist, I enjoy the thrill of mastering new media and discovering the unique context each brings to the themes I investigate. Through screenprinting, I explore pattern and repetition, facsimile and simulacra, and the order found in randomness that communicates transformative possibilities. Screenprinting is akin to breathing. There is an inhalation and an exhalation as part of the printing process—stop for too long and the ink dries up and the screen dies. The rhythm of it communicates life, communicates cycles that are so important to my understanding of the way we interact with our surroundings. I get lost in this process in the way one gets lost in their breathing during meditation. This sense that everything else fades away—or maybe merges together. That pain and joy, life and death, are seen as part of the same process. This doesn’t come easily though, not for me at least: I have to fight the screen for it. Fight to get the process right. Fight to get that glimpse of peace that really only comes from letting go.
The Art of Clovis Blackwell: The Atom Bomb and A Metempsychosis of Hope
Marvin R. Milian, M.A.
In his prophetic novel, The World Set Free, H. G. Wells describes a uranium powered bomb so massive that its embers would never die. A weapon, dropped from planes, capable of destruction unparalleled to the human imagination. Two and a half decades later, at the behest of Albert Einstein and in cooperation with the Manhattan Project, the world would enter a nuclear age. On December 2, 1942, led by physicist Enrico Fermi, the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction was engineered. At 3:25 p.m. on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, the atomic age was ushered in.
Three years later—and seventy-two hours after an atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy devastated Hiroshima—U.S. aerial forces released an even more powerful weapon of destruction dubbed Fat Man on Nagasaki. The impact resulted in a 40,000-foot-high column of radioactive dust and debris. “We saw this big plume climbing up, up into the sky,” recalled Lieutenant Charles Levy. “It was purple, red, white, all colors—something like boiling coffee. It looked alive.” The event would challenge our view of humanity, and the artistic reaction was littered in anxiety, bathed in fear, and echoed with protest.
For Salvador Dali, the monstrous reality of this devastation eclipsed even Surrealism. “The atomic explosion of August 6, 1945, shook me seismically,” he says in The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali. An examination of Mark Rothko’s columnist clouds of color echo the cryptic footprint left by a nuclear explosion. Andy Warhol immortalized the demonic mushroom plume left in the wake of a nuclear detonation in his Atomic Bomb silkscreen of 1965. In 1972, he created a series titled Sunrise which seems to capture, in radiant color, the mushroom cloud from the first hydrogen bomb test, Ivy Mike, from the cover of the April 12, 1954, issue of Time.
The art of Clovis Blackwell adds yet another dimension to the evolution of the iconic image imprinted in the minds of mankind. For Blackwell, the mushroom cloud represents a moment of transformation, a rebirth of order in the wake of chaos. The metempsychosis is presented as an illumination of color, and the layering of images results in an embryotic dance of ink on canvas. In its simplicity there is dynamism in his art, and emotion bleeds on the paper. Blackwell manipulates images, mostly flowers and nuclear tests, and creates a dialogue infused with optimism and hope. The yellow geometric shapes that appear to cradle the nuclear explosions and flower patterns are derived from images of caves, suggesting that out of the darkness there is light.
I visited Blackwell at his studio in Southern California, a humble creative space nestled among the trees. He escorted me to the basement where he produces most of his work. A creative cave that stimulates the mind into chromatic pulsations, proves a fitting environment for an artist whose art attempts to visualize the potential for apocalyptic rebirth.
The art of Clovis Blackwell is a dialogue that must not be ignored. His reinventing of the apocalyptic myths adds a sanguine voice to the otherwise ominous tone that was presented by artists such as Dali, Rothko, and Warhol. In this contemporary climate, where many of the same political fears that plagued the 20th century have risen, Clovis Blackwell explodes onto the art scene with promise.