The act of creating mixed-media assemblages is therapeutic for Lillian Blades, who is known for her large colorful works made with found objects. Blades’s current show, “Fractal Reflections” at September Gray Art Gallery, builds on her previous work, with the addition of darker colors to convey deeper emotions.
Blades layers her large wall-hung canvases with a variety of found objects — picture frames, costume jewelry, tools, photos, etc. — on painted backgrounds. Many of the compositions consist primarily of objects of the same color family. Between the objects, she places long slivers of mirror to reflect light and distort the viewer’s image. Her arrangements of ordinary found objects are suggestive of mementos and evoke a sense of nostalgia.
“Fractal Reflections” pays homage to Blades’s childhood home in Nassau, the Bahamas, while reconciling her feelings about her new life in the United States. This is the artist’s eighth solo show in Atlanta, and her recent work is imbued with emotional meaning and vulnerability. The various components in the assemblages provide a glimpse into her personal journey. Pulling from her memories, Blades conjures the beauty of the islands. She goes beyond superficial associations with the Bahamas by exploring the depth of her emotions, adding a level of intrigue missing from her earlier work.
The first piece in the show, titled Hue-doo, is an energetic assemblage of predominantly red objects — a montage of fashion clippings, a sacred Yoruba statue, crystals, and empty picture frames — which Blades uses repeatedly to connote memory. In the context of this body of work, the crimson red suggests the placenta where new life is nourished. The red hues at the bottom of the canvas transition into orange and then a brilliant yellow at the top, symbolizing an audacity rooted in a strong foundation.
Blades’s mother passed away shortly after giving birth, leaving Blades in the care of her aunt and uncle. She was raised in a culture that embraced its African ancestry and deeply appreciated island life. Blades finds solace in rediscovering the indigenous religions that influence Bahamian culture. Learning about the spirituality of her culture helps her cope with the void she feels for never having known her birth mother.
Each work on view represents aspects of the world she left behind. The slivers of glass placed within the assemblages are symbolic of the fringe on costumes worn by dancers during island festivals. The blue hues represent the sea and water, and many of the items have feminine associations: pendants, jewelry and crystals.
For Blades, the introduction of darker hues signifies the place where past and present meet. Her piece Windows of Memory — one of her most transformative pieces to date — is covered with empty gold frames and slivers of mirror that fracture the viewer’s image amid color and reflected light. It’s a reminder that memory is often filtered through sentiment and a lament for what could have been. In Chrysalis, she seems to embrace her new life stateside; her use of such tools as a paint brush, sander, and a skeleton key (for locking away memories of her former life) is powerful.
Blades is evolving, and as she spends less time in Nassau her work reflects the detachment resulting from leaving her familial homeland. In Otito, the Yoruba word for “reflections,” Blades takes her biggest risk by embracing the color black, which she combines with generous amounts of mirror “fringe.” Her use of tribal script in the piece could be seen as an attempt to reconnect with her past. As with any spiritual rebirth, there are only fractured pieces of the past, like the broken reflection viewers encounter while standing in front of Blades’s abstracted memories.
“Lillian Blades: Fractal Reflections” is on view at September Gray Art Gallery through October 21.
Patrice Worthy is a writer based in Atlanta. She runs the website “PWORTHY.com: focusing on Blacks in the high arts.”