Nayland Blake was one of the pioneers of performance art in the Bay Area in the 1980s. His work often explored aspects of the queer urban lifestyle. Though now based in New York, his most recent work is a return to his earlier processes from that period, where materials and spontaneity generate sculptural works that are informal, precarious, nonsensical, and odd or uncanny. While Blake is known for his symbol-laden works of black and white bunnies, ghosts, black liquid, or household objects gone awry, he is now entering another phase of production, where he intends to eschew an approach to object-making that trades on creating symbolic meaning. This is an interesting gamble and one that appears to be motivated by a desire to wipe the slate clean and get back in touch with the most intuitive aspects of his practice.
For his upcoming solo exhibition at YBCA, Blake will create spontaneous sculptures using his life as the catalyst. This concept stems from his 1993 work, Equipment for a shameful epic, which operated as a kind of kit of materials that were available for assembly. This work, described in the Daily News as a “Halloween grab bag of gory rubberized heads, plastic weapons, and masks of Nixon, Reagan, and Jason (of Friday the 13th infamy) hints at some real-life slasher film enacted on the American body politic, circa 1970-90.” It is representative of the bricolage drive in much of Blake’s work, as well as his use of humor as a way to bring repressed attitudes to the surface.
Another important conceptual underpinning for this exhibition is a videotape by the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen titled The Bride Groom Stripped Bare (2002). While this video is not part of the exhibition, the deconstruction and reconstruction of the fabric wrapping and shaping is representative of the spirit of intuitive art-making that is at the center of this project.
Nayland Blake is an artist, instigator, writer, and educator, currently living in Brooklyn. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum; the Studio Museum of Harlem; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the de Young Museum. His writing has appeared in Interview Magazine, Artforum, Out, and OutLook. In 1994, Blake co-curated, with Lawrence Rinder, In a Different Light at the Berkeley Art Museum, the first major museum exhibition to examine the impact of queer artists on contemporary art. He is currently the chair of the ICP-Bard Program in Advanced Photographic Studies at the International Center of Photography. Blake lived and worked in the Bay Area from 1984-1996.