Nayland Blake: artist, writer, and educator

By Jenny Lee

Untitled“It is often those parts of artworks that we cannot resolve that are the most important and the most individual to the artist.”

A big bearded man in a ridiculously bloated white bunny suit weighing 146 pounds tries to do the two-step.  The man in this video performance Starting Over is the artist himself, Nayland William Blake.

Nayland Blake, born in 1960 in New York, was disposed to art at a very young age.  He recalls his parents taking him to the Museum of Modern Art and being inspired by the works of Joseph Cornell when he was 8. At the age of 15, he made his first collage Four Hippos from a museum brochure. In high school, Blake was an “art nerd” and spent most of his time drawing comics, listening to early Frank Zappa records, and seeing the performance of artists like Richard Foreman.

After graduating from Bard College and receiving his M.F.A from the California Institute of the Arts, he became the curator for New Langton Arts, where he also had his first solo exhibition. In 1995, Blake was the co-curator of the exhibition, In a Different Light, the first major exhibition that examined the works of queer artists exclusively.

Blake works with a variety of media including sculpture, performance, video, and drawing to explore the complexities of racial and sexual identity, including his own. The bunny motif occurs throughout his work and is seen within the context of a homosexual pop cultural item, but also extends as a metaphor for racial identity as in the Br’er Rabbits in Uncle Remus folk tales. In his works, Blake blurs the boundaries between pain and pleasure, as well as care and punishment. For instance, in his work Gorge, Blake sits shirtless and is hand-fed continuously for an hour by a shirtless black man. It is painful for the people to see the artist eat, as they smell the log cabin made of gingerbread from Feeder.

Blake’s work has been reviewed as “extreme,” “brutal,” and “disturbing.” Yet he is a friendly man who shares how to recreate some of his art on his website and posts pictures of his beloved Boston terrier, Lehigh. He is currently the chairman of International Center of Photography/Bard College masters program in advanced photographic studies.

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Berry, Ian. Nayland Blake: Some Kind of Love, Performance Video 1989-2002. David Deitcher, essay. Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2003.

Blake, Nayland. Naylandblake.net. N.p., 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2009.

Carr, C. “Bunny Hop.” The Village Voice 18 Apr. 2000: n. pag. Web. 19 Oct. 2009.

Johnson, Ken. “A Host of Gay and Racial Ambiguities Ready for Your Decoding.” Rev. of Some Kind of Love, by Nayland Blake. Tang Teaching Museum, New York. New York Times. N.p., 3 Oct. 2003.  Web. 19 Oct. 2009.

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