New York

Lucas Blalock, The Floridian (Urodisny), 2017–20, dye sublimation print on aluminum, 50 1⁄4 × 40".

Lucas Blalock, The Floridian (Urodisny), 2017–20, dye sublimation print on aluminum, 50 1⁄4 × 40".

Lucas Blalock

Over the past decade, Lucas Blalock’s darkly funny eye and knack for discomfiting Photoshop magick have made clear his ambivalent perspective, not just on the integrity of the image world, but also on the fundamental coherence of the world itself. With this show, the artist also provided a crucial bit of backstory to the development of his convincingly off-kilter take on things. The exhibition, “Florida, 1989,” was so named because it was there and then that the ten-year-old Blalock was involved in an accident on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. It resulted in his right thumb being irredeemably damaged; he was eventually medevaced to a hospital in North Carolina where, in a then-innovative surgical procedure, the big toe of his right foot was removed and attached in the crushed finger’s place. As critic Chris Wiley points out in a perceptive accompanying essay, both the trauma of the event—a horrific injury occurring on the cusp of adolescence, at the very epicenter of childhood fantasy and delight—and the pioneering bit of “digital” bodywork that ensued have had a deep and abiding influence on Blalock’s artistic practice. Objects, figures, and spaces judder and melt under the deforming force of brush tools and clone stamps; scenarios are shot through with physical and conceptual voids; wildly heterodox things are yoked into perversely Frankensteined anatomies. The undercurrent of fitfulness and instability that colors nearly every aspect of the artist’s work can be understood, in some very real sense, to emanate from that specific moment of physical agony and from the psychological distress that followed.

The nearly two dozen works on view—the majority of them dye sublimation prints mounted on aluminum—suggested a curdled form of domesticity, a kind of cruddy household universe in which denatured things and sites are always carefully poised on the threshold between banality and deviancy. In a few instances, Blalock accomplished this via what seemed to be more or less straight photography. The Floridian (Urodisny), 2017–20, for example, read as a schlocky still-life paean to the scene of Blalock’s accident, with its hunk of flesh-colored material—a peculiar cross between a piece of candy and a dental appliance—impaled atop a stake against which leans a slapdash sketch of waves. Dirt, Was, 2020, appeared to be an image of a rough soil surface (or was it a section of misbegotten 1970s family-room carpet?), dotted with bits of thready debris. And for the sculptural trio of what the artist calls “Film-Objects,” a series from 2020, he mounted a selection of basic photos depicting his head, a potato, and a rather sad-looking fish carcass from different vantage points onto a series of carousels suggesting rudimentary zoetropes, which turned with a fatigued slowness that stunted any promise of real animation.

Other images—such as Blep, 2020, in which a small plastic tiger sports a wildly nonstandard humanlike tongue, or Sweater I, 2020, in which tufts of (maybe) hair have established a repellent colony in the creases of a crumpled aqua pullover—challenged the viewer’s ability to judge whether what we were seeing was the product of analog or digital intercession. But in most cases Blalock’s interventions were clearly announced as CGI, though they were no less persuasive for the blunt declaration of their artifice. These works typically propose familiarity grown stealthily aberrant, as embodied for example by little spikes haloed with tiny rings of infection that pierce a dilapidated pediment in Nail Façade / above the door picture, 2019; the hovering disaggregated stones of a chintzy fireplace surround in Haunted Hearth (Witchcraft Advertisement), 2017–20; or the distended white button-down that’s the focus of Animated Dad Shirt, 2020. Superimposed over what might be a skull, the symbol of a certain freshly shaven paternal competence in this last work is bloated and torqued, its arms rendered helpless as if by some sort of teratogenic calamity—or, say, a misbehaving amusement park attraction. This procedure of strategically poking holes in the superficially “normal” reached its literal apotheosis in Perforated Landing I, 2020, the show’s largest and most arresting image. In it, the plywood walls bordering a run-down stairwell are peppered with several dozen holes of various shapes and sizes that reveal a suspiciously vibrant-looking nether region beneath the crummy facade, weird little windows into the kind of space Blalock always courts—the world behind the world.