Studio Visit: William Blake
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, a chat with William Blake, a 22-year-old senior painting major at the University of Illinois who will graduate in May. He will return home and do commissioned portrait paintings for a while.
Q: So you want to concentrate on portraiture?
A: Yes. I think it's a biological need to stare at people. You're always attracted to the eyes or the human figure. It's always something I'm interested in. The paintings I most love are almost always figurative paintings.
Q: Your Civil War re-enactment paintings at Figure One are great. How long have you been a Civil War re-enactor?
A: I joined the Southern Illinois Cavalry regiment when I was 12. It was nice because I was too young to use weapons on the field. I was a bugler, and I played taps to raise the "dead." During the battles, I also would play the calls to charge and rally formations.
Q: When did you start making paintings about this?
A: I always drew Civil War generals when I was a kid. I always looked up to the generals. John Buford was one I really admired and drew a lot. I would look at old black and white photos and draw from those.
Q: Who are the re-enactors you depict in the paintings at Figure One?
A: Most are friends who modeled for me, except for Dan Flora, who's a re-enactor for the 20th Illinois Infantry Regiment.
Q: How many paintings do you have in the show and are they all are related to Civil War re-enactments?
A: Six, and they're all related to Civil War re-enactments or narratives.
Q: Are they oil?
Q: Did you paint from live models?
A: They're all from photographs except the still life, and that's of percussion caps. And the self-portrait was done from a mirror.
Q: How and when did you get interested in painting?
A: College is when I really started to paint. I did soft pastel drawings in high school, and painting was kind of the next step.
Q: Do your parents support you becoming a painter, and what do they do for a living?
A: Yes. My mom is a fashion designer; she used to work for Oshkosh B'gosh, and she had her own store for a while. My dad is a computer consultant.
Q: Who were your influences at the UI?
A: I guess Patrick Earl Hammie, Laurie Hogin, Melissa Pokorny, Conrad Bakker. I guess every UI faculty member was influential.
Q: Who are some of your favorite artists?
A: John Singer Sargent, Antonio Mancini, Anders Zorn, Vincent Desiderio.
Q: What did you think of your four years at the UI?
A: I sort of wished I had more time. I did a study abroad in Florence and Scotland. So I wasn't here all four years. I'm going to miss it.
Q: Who are you showing with at Figure One?
A: Sean Tierney, a UI student. He and I collaborated on the show. I love his work, and I think he and I work well together. He's an installation artist who does mixed media. His work is very theatrical with a sort of para-military aesthetic, and it touches on themes that I'm starting to bring up in my own work.
Q: And what are those themes?
A: Contemporary American politics and culture.
Q: Did figurative painting come easy for you?
A: It's a lot of work. I wouldn't say I'm talented but it's a skill you work on over time. I was lucky enough to have good teachers — and YouTube. It's one of the most helpful painting teachers out there. It has a lot of painting demos, including by really good artists. You kind of stare at it and study it and think about the moves they're making.
The exhibition "Between The States" by William Blake and Sean Tierney will be at Figure One, 116 N. Walnut St., C, through May 17, and the two artists will give a talk there at 3 p.m. May 3.