05 March 2007


Alan Jacobs reviews a collection of the work of the fascinating artist Gregory Blackstock:

Gregory Blackstock is sixty-one years old. He speaks about a dozen languages and plays any number of musical instruments, but his greatest talent is as an artist: his artwork has appeared at galleries in Seattle, where he lives, and about five years ago he took early retirement from a job he had held for twenty-five years in order to devote himself fully to art and music. To cap off this late-blooming career, last year Princeton Architectural Press published a substantial collection of his drawings.

In light of this impressive resumé, some readers may be surprised to learn that the job from which Blackstock retired was, in his own description, that of "pot-&-dishroom steward" at the Washington Athletic Club. That is, he washed pots. It is also curious that, among the many instruments he can play, his strong preference is for the accordion, "because it's loud." His insistence on playing the accordion at the opening of his 2004 show at the Garde Rail Gallery must have made for an unusual evening for the art-lovers who showed up.

Gregory Blackstock is autistic, and because of his extraordinary gifts he is called a "savant" (a problematic word, I feel). Like many autistic people, Blackstock has a passion for order and precision, which shows up in any number of ways. For instance, the autobiography he hand-wrote for his book, Blackstock's Collections, takes the form of a list—"1. MY DATE OF BIRTH … 2. MY PREVIOUS SCHOOLS OF 1950 TO 1964 … 3. MY USUAL CITY NEWSPAPER ROUTE PERIOD"—and in listing his employment history he notes that he began his job at the Washington Athletic Club on September 9, 1975 and retired on January 12, 2001. Though I said that Blackstock worked there for twenty-five years, he prefers to say that it was twenty-five-and-a-third years.



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