On road trips across the South, Andrew Blanchard collects images to be used in his artwork.
Churches, rusted pickup trucks, graffiti, business signs and even roadkill - Blanchard, 37, a Converse College art professor, shoots photos of it all. He then incorporates these images of the South into his printmaking process.
“I don't call them photographs,” Blanchard said, while working on a piece in a studio at Converse recently. “I call them images. They're a means to an end.”
The new piece incorporates five churches - Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal and Methodist - from photos taken on Southern road trips. Sometimes a few words or a phrase inspires a new piece for Blanchard, who plans to title the latest piece, “Which Way Will I Go?” Some of his works aim to destroy Southern stereotypes or blur the lines between urban, rural and country, he said.
The art that comes from Blanchard's unique process of printmaking on wood panels now has him in the running for a prize to recognize outstanding young artists in South Carolina. He is a finalist for the Columbia-based 701 Center for Contemporary Artists' annual prize. The purpose of the competition “is to identify and recognize young South Carolina artists whose work is exemplary in its originality, shows awareness of artistic developments and is of high artistic merit,” according to the center.Blanchard's prints have collectors around the world. His work has been viewed by best-selling authors John Grisham and Stephen King, and bought by NFL quarterback Eli Manning. Blanchard's mixed-process prints on wood and paper have been included in more than 100 national and international juried print exhibitions and was included recently in New American Paintings and the Oxford American magazine, which named him among the New Superstars of Southern Art.
Although his work has received accolades, Blanchard is excited about his art being recognized in the state he now calls home.
“I'm really happy, super thankful,” he said.
As Blanchard says in his artist's biography on his website, andrewblanchard.net, he was born in the “wild swamps” of Louisiana and grew up in Waveland, Miss.
While in high school, he was inspired by the woodcuts of Walter Anderson and developed his interest in printmaking.
“I got a hold of printmaking in my sophomore year of high school,” Blanchard said. “Printmaking is a lot of manual labor, and that's what I grew up doing.”
That manual labor included laying carpet and carpentry. Woodworking is something Blanchard continues today - he makes his own wood panels for his prints, and built the cabinets at Cakehead Bake Shop, which his wife, Liz, owns.
Blanchard's portfolio includes the series, “Dixie Totems,” which features images hand painted signs and pickup trucks and began as paper prints. He uses similar photos with Southern themes in his work now, but prints on wood.
“Most people print on paper,” Blanchard said. “Working on wood panels is just so fun. People think they're paintings.”
Wood is a more forgiving medium than paper. If Blanchard sees a mistake, it's easy to wipe it away with a wet rag or sand it out, something he can't do with paper prints.
Blanchard received a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and his master's degree at the University of Mississippi. He's been working at Converse for nine years, and was the youngest faculty member at the college when he began working there.
Blanchard entered seven pieces for the 701 Center competition. One sold at a reception held Oct. 30There are two other finalists for the 701 CCA Prize. The winner will receive a six-week, paid residency at 701 CCA, consultation services from a professional advertising and marketing firm, a solo exhibition at 701 CCA, and an ad in a national publication.
Susanne Floyd Gunter, chair of the Converse art department, said she's ecstatic that Blanchard has been chosen as a finalist.
“Andrew gives a great twist on all things Southern,” Gunter said.
Blanchard's originality comes from the way he mixes mediums, Gunter said. He uses printmaking, which is an old art form, but makes it new and unique by adding his own digital images and printing on wood panels rather than paper.
“He really does have a Southern theme and a Southern sensibility,” Gunter said. “His technique gives it a freshness.”
Gunter said Blanchard makes an impact on his students not only by his teachings in the classroom, but the work he produces himself.
“I think Andrew is a consummate professional,” she said. “He sets high standards for himself and his students. Students see him exhibiting, and he requires his students to exhibit. He makes it part of the process.”