Today’s featured Corona artist is Blythe King. A featured artist in 2017 in our Griffin online gallery, Blythe’s creative constructions of women radiate out of our screens. Combining materials to elevate ordinary women to extraordinary beings, her work exemplifies the internal manifestation embodying light and life. We asked her a few questions about her work and how light fills her day.
A central focus of the Corona exhibition is based in light, both external and internal. Your portraits exude light and life. How does light play into your work?
My subjects are radiant beings. Transparent layers let light in and invite us to look beneath the surface. These women are liberated to reveal each individual’s complex, boundless nature.
My work transforms photographs of models from Montgomery Ward mail order catalogs (circa 1940-80) into evocative multi-layered portraits. Because subjects are freed from the social expectations and stereotypes of their original context of commodification, they shine anew.
Gold leafing animates my work. As light changes throughout the day, it alters the appearance of my portraits — illuminating the figure, making it flicker, casting a shadow.
Can you talk about how religion, faith and spirituality are infused in the work?
My subjects begin as mere clippings from discarded, forgotten Montgomery Ward catalogs. The models were presented superficially. It’s advertising. But through collage, gold leafing, and other techniques, they re-emerge and become a source of wonder and intrigue. It’s divinization.
I notice parallels between the poses, gazes, and hand gestures of fashion models in advertising and deities in Buddhist and Hindu art. I combine religious imagery with commercial images of women to create a pantheon of sorts. The women in my work strike me as familiar — but with a difference. They stand out to me because I see something extraordinary in them. My impulse is to honor them.
I hold an MA in Buddhism and Art from the University of Colorado, with undergraduate studies in Japanese religion and art at the University of Richmond. I’m a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. My experiences lead me to question how our conditioning — be it social, cultural, environmental, genetic — places limitations on how we understand who we are. Zen is liberating. It beckons a fundamental shift in perspective.
Making art is one path. For me, it’s applying the sum of my experiences. Through artistic experimentation, I’ve discovered a way to combine and further activate my interests in popular culture, vintage imagery, Buddhist philosophy, Japanese art, old paper, and feminist philosophy.
And thank you for mentioning “that combination of layers” in my work. It’s all done by hand. It’s important to me that the viewer see and feel how the physical layers — skins, if you will — interact. The image transfer process is my own. I arrived at it after overcoming the restrictions in hand-cut collages. My first body of work, “How to Take a Compliment,” presents subjects at their original scale. Since then, I’ve amplified and reduced subjects through scanning. That has made pieces more intimate or larger than life.
Survival is a means to coronation. My subjects were mere paper but have lasted more than a half century to now stand as supernatural queens. We too can adapt and become our greatest selves through challenges.
There’s a cemetery near my home. I walk there because it’s perfect for social distancing. But I’m also taken by how beautiful the flowers and trees blossom in a place that honors death. I’m reminded of the Hindu goddess, Kali, who is at once a destructive and creative force.
Placed in this light, a pandemic is not only temporary but also a path to renewal. It’s part of the perfection, if you will.
What is next for you creatively? What are you working on?
I have a solo exhibition coming in the fall of 2021 at Eric Schindler Gallery here in Richmond (VA, USA). I’ll have a whole new collection ready for that.
I’ve dreamed of being hired by Montgomery Ward as their collage artist. They’re still in business. I have convincing to do.
About Blythe King
Blythe King is a rising talent who currently breaks new ground in photography, collage, and the ancient art of gold leafing. Born in Pittsburgh in 1977, her work is heavily influenced by two legacies — the whimsical, social commentary of hometown hero Andy Warhol forged with traditional Steel Town resolve. King studied religion and art at the University of Richmond and the University of Colorado. She practiced Zen calligraphy with Stephen Addiss (The Art of Zen).
But it was a textile startup in quaint Breaux Bridge, Louisiana that brought her journey into focus. For iSockits, King fashioned wildly-successful tablet covers from vintage women’s shirts. Her latest fine art project, “Two Sides of the Same Coin,” is exceptional for its delicate but moving revelations. She rescues clippings from a range of vintage catalogs to open a fresh discourse around women’s issues. In addition to her art, King teaches creativity to underserved communities in Richmond, VA.
You can see more of Blythe King‘s work on her website.