BIOGRAPHY: IN HER OWN WORDS
Excerpt from Book
There have been two constants in my life: a love of art– formal, precise, abstract– and a concern for human dignity and civil rights. Only later did these come together to produce art works that reflect my heritage and political concerns, but I can safely say that for me the personal and the political were intertwined from an early age.
I was born in Ecorse, Michigan, southwest of Detroit, in 1947, the second of seven children to Rosa Mae and David Blocton Jr. Their parents had been sharecroppers for many years in Tyler, Alabama a small farming community outside of Selma, until they were forced off the land during the early Civil Rights era. They remained in Alabama, however, and during the summer months of 1957-1965, my family would pack us in the car for our annual trip South. The trip was a long one and in those days there were no ”colored” motels. Before we could help with the driving, my father had to rest in a parking lot, perhaps at a gas station with the owner’s permission. Restaurants they would not serve us. All the gas station facilities were segregated; the black restrooms were never cleaned and smelled. The water fountains indicated colored and white, colored water was not refrigerated. More dangerously, in the rural areas, African American drivers were targeted by law enforcement. My father assumed he would get at least two tickets per trip.
On the positive side, I learned a great deal about our family, our history and our heritage in the South. Some of my earliest memories related to art were of the artifacts discovered out in the country where there was no running water or electricity. Many of these utilitarian items like oil lamps, ceramic plates, silverware, and quilts were passed down from generation to generation and were prized possessions. Perhaps it is no coincidence that much of my work has been rooted in still life.
I was enthusiastic about art early, too, copying photographs in elementary school and persuading friends to pose for portraits in high school. I did not see art as a career – or even a major – until my second year at the University of Michigan. But when I began taking art classes and experienced painting, a world opened up to me that I never knew existed. I discovered a way of communicating with color, shapes that was uniquely my own way.
After completing a BFA at the University of Michigan, I received a scholarship to the University of California at Santa Barbara. I was there for one semester, during the student protests against the war in Vietnam. In the spring 1970, I went back to Michigan and enrolled in the MFA program at Indiana University.
During my graduate work, I made my first self-portrait and began studying color theory seriously. Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color was an important resource, both for my work personally and as a beginning teacher. I also became more deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement, feminism and LGBTQ rights.
My first teaching job was at Kean College of New Jersey, now Kean University, teaching painting and drawing. I developed a life long relationship with a group of African American women during this time; we called ourselves Black Women in Visual Perspective. Being a part of this group provided support and networking opportunities. A year later, I moved to a loft space in New York City, then the gayest city in the USA and the art capital of the world.
Everything about being in the city was an influence: meeting emerging artists, seeing major museum collections, experiencing concerts by well known musicians, being a part of political activism. This was the period of the Guerilla Girls, who protested the exclusion of women artists, the Stonewall riots, and the first Gay Pride Parade. I was there for them all, and my artwork became energized with movement and color, even though it remained precise, geometric and abstract.
I began commuting to the State University of New York, New Paltz in 1975. I taught graduate classes in painting and also basic drawing techniques to beginners. During my years at New Paltz, I was influenced by the rural landscape as well as by the city. My paintings evolved from repetitive squares to rectangles with varied hard and soft shapes.
I had a solo exhibition of these works at Larry Aldrich’s Soho Center for the Visual Artists Gallery, NYC. My short affiliation with the Martha Jackson Gallery resulted in a painting in the collection of the Albright Knox Museum and the collection of the Prudential Life Insurance Co., Newark, NJ.