Online Edition: Winter 2006/2007

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Blackstock's Collections

The Drawings of an Artistic Savant

Gregory L. Blackstock

Princeton Architectural Press ($19.95)

by Eliza Murphy

A painstakingly rendered murder of crows line up on the cover of Blackstock's Collections—the extremely endangered Hawaiian crow, Iraqi pied crow, and the carrion crow stand in profile alongside others in the tidy rows that characterize Gregory Blackstock's artistic oeuvre. The back cover features similarly astonishing shoes executed with precision in his inimitable style. His compositions consist of rows of objects labeled with neat, capitalized identifying words, sometimes accompanied by information about the objects.

An artistic savant who earned his living as a pot washer until his retirement, Blackstock is a self-taught illustrator; most of the time, he only has to look at an object once before drawing it accurately, in pencil, on paper, then finishing each drawing in black markers, graphite and colored pencils. His ability to space his subjects in an even fashion on a single page, sometimes several sheets glued or taped together, is remarkable. During an interview at his studio home recently, he said he has no need for a straight edge or a ruler, but he does use an eraser: "I have to do it to make it perfect."

In this book, a veritable encyclopedia of the ordinary, Blackstock arranges the chapters by groups of objects, such as "our famous birds," "the noisemakers," and "the last but not least." When something intrigues Blackstock, his fascination is thorough, whether the object be as commonplace as balls or as exotic as "Nature's Insect Death Traps,"which includes text that explains, in his matter-of-fact language, "the bladderwort— an aquatic carnivore with pouches to engulf and eat up tiny creatures after they swim & inside the doors for food."

Sometimes that fascination inspires him to go places, and Blackstock catalogues his travels in his brief biography at the beginning. But pursuing his art seriously does not preclude his inclusion of humor, nor playfulness. In "The Noisemakers," he gathers together "UFO & old flying saucer helicopters," chainsaws, giant outboard race engines, roman candles, and a cartoon-like face with a bubble filled with what appear as conventional signs for expletives, with the description: "loud filthy-mouth offender, the overemotional dirt bag."

Blackstock's innate inquisitiveness propels him to catalog and order a chaotic world filled with stuff, none of it too mundane to escape his notice. The foreword by Dr. Darold A. Treffert, a Savant Syndrome expert, offers a brief but incisive explanation of the condition. Treffert's sensitive understanding of this rare disorder makes it impossible to discount or pathologize Blackstock's drive to create. "Savant skills are as much a force as they are a gift. . . . these are more than frivolous compulsive outpourings. They are the language of the savant."


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