Since the mid-2000s, Josh Blackwell has salvaged discarded plastic bags from city streets, kitchen cupboards, trunks of cars, and everywhere in between to use as “substrate and armature” for his unlikely combinations of colorful wool yarn, silk thread, and patterned cloth. Trained as a painter, Blackwell considers every embellishment applied and every embroidery stitch sewn into the surface of his plastic bags to be proxies for painterly mark-making. Additive and expressive, Blackwell’s interventions into and upon the form of the plastic bag—a globally ubiquitous symbol of capitalist waste—cohere into gorgeous, geometrically abstract compositions that intermix color, texture, and pattern.
Inspired by historical sources as varied as the Italian futurists (for their interdisciplinary and offbeat interpretations of industrial development) and folk or outsider artists native to the American South (for their exaltation of the amateur aesthetic and embrace of the everyday), Blackwell’s artworks address such contemporary themes as environmentalism, excess, utility, and (re)use with a fresh and playful sense of experimentation. Defiant of genre and dismissive of easy conventions of taste, Blackwell’s recent series of transformed plastic bags known as Neveruses (or “never uses”) have additionally made their way into collaborative installations, photographs, performances, and dance projects that further explore the limitless potential of the material.
On view in the 6th-floor Project Space, Josh Blackwell: Neveruses Report Progress is the inaugural installation of the Education Department’s MAD Process Lab, a new series exploring an individual artist’s practice—from inspiration to exhibition—in great depth. Including site-specific installations of raw materials and works in progress transported directly from the artist’s studio, MAD Process Lab presentations feature a small selection of finished artworks among larger displays of studio samples, photographic documentation, research materials, notes, ephemera, and other items that inform an artist’s work.
Originally from New Orleans, Josh Blackwell is an artist and teacher based in New York City and Bennington, Vermont. His work has been shown nationally and abroad, including solo exhibitions in New York, London, Los Angeles, and Paris. In 2014, he received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant. He has also received fellowships from the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, ZK/U Berlin, Santa Fe Art Institute, the Delfina Studio Trust, and the Corporation of Yaddo. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and a BA from Bennington College, where he joined the faculty in 2016, having been a visiting faculty member since 2009.
Josh Blackwell: Neveruses Report Progress is organized by Danny Orendorff, Manager of Public and Community Engagement Programs in the MAD Education Department, as a companion installation to MAD Transformations, a series of six exhibitions presented this fall that address artists who have transformed and continue to transform our perceptions of traditional craft mediums. Building upon the exhibition Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years, which celebrates the work of an artist known for drastically changing the way clay is categorized as an art material and discipline, the MAD Transformations exhibitions consider fiber, clay, and jewelry and metals—disciplines (along with glass and wood) that compose the bedrock of the Museum of Arts and Design’s founding mission and collection, and continue to morph in the hands of contemporary artists today.