Heart of the Arts: Meet Mixed Media Artist Lillian Blades
Blades’ assemblages of Plexiglass, photos and other found materials are meant to spark memories for the viewer.
BY ELLIE HENSLEY
Lillian Blades describes her mixed media assemblages as “organized chaos.”
From a distance, her large scale pieces are easy-on-the-eye gradients that pull the viewer in. But the closer the viewer gets to the piece, the more detailed it becomes, a complicated mosaic of colored Plexiglass tiles, wire, mirrors, printed photos and other found materials.
“I want it to feel complex but simple at the same time,” Blades said of her assemblages, the genre for which still does not have a defined name. “I want the details and the objects to carry memory and trigger you into thinking about your associations with certain patterns and textures.”
Blades is one of six artists to receive studio space for a year through the Heart of the Arts studio residency program, created through innovative partnerships between Midtown Alliance and commercial property owners. Her workspace at the historic Crum and Forster building, now part of Coda Tech Square, is provided by Portman Holdings.
We sat down with Blades to discuss her goals for her residency, what she’s working on and the evolution of her art.
Inspiration From Places Near and Far
Blades was born in Nassau, Bahamas, and lived there until she moved to the United States to go to college. Her mother died in childbirth, and her craft as a seamstress has always played a substantial role in Blades’ work.
“I started thinking about what is connected to me and my heritage and tradition,” she said. “I wanted to use sewing as a way of creating, like using my hands to join pieces together to pay homage to her, to other mothers and to creators.”
Blades’ father was a plumber, and many of her other pieces include small pieces of PVC pipes or tubes.
"Years ago, if you were born into a family of metalsmiths, that would be something that was passed as a trade in the family that you’re almost expected to continue,” she said. “I feel it is sincere to me to tap into this kind of work.”
"Bahama Seashore," by Lillian Blades.
Blades got her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She went on to get her Masters of Fine Arts from Georgia State University. Her studies took her around the world, including Italy, France and South Africa, and these international travels brought her lots of inspiration. For example, she saw an exhibition of African minkisiat a museum in France and loved how the embellished textiles were a tribute to their maker’s ancestors.
“It was a mystery to me; I didn’t know much about it but it was something I was drawn to,” she said.
Originally, Blades was a painter, and she still considers herself a painter at her core — now she just weaves more tactile qualities into her work.
“I take the basic elements and principles of design and push them as far as I can,” she said. “I push texture and color. I add light, transparency and movement - things you can’t get with just painting to get more engagement with the viewer.”
Lillian describes her work and process in this short interview (runtime 1:43).
A Full-Time Job
A full-time artist since 2016, Blades previously worked out of a studio she rented on the West End. The past several years, she has primarily worked on commissions for clients that include McKinsey & Co., Baha Mar Convention Center, State Farm Arena, Smith, Gambrell & Russell; and Boston Children’s Hospital.
“Everything I’ve done, people have reached out to me, either over my Instagram, or through my website or email,” she said. “I like doing that, it’s been quite a few projects.”
Blades had ties to Midtown even before she was selected to be part of the inaugural cohort of the Heart of the Arts Studio Residency Program. She landed her largest commission to date, a 17.5-foot installation for McKinsey that took a year to complete, through Anne Lambert Tracht, CEO of ConsultArt Inc., Co-Chair of the Atlanta Metropolitan Public Art Coalition and longtime Midtown Alliance Board Member. Though her work with Consultart, Tracht helps commercial property owners purchase and site artwork for their properties. She also helped Cousins Properties conceive several years ago the idea for its artist in-residence program at the Promenade building in Midtown, which informed Midtown Alliance’s decision to launch its own residency program.
“Anne helped me push my work beyond the wall panel, and that was the challenge that really got me started,” she said.
During her year at the Crum and Forster building that stands at Abercrombie and Spring Streets just south of Tech Square, Blades has set her sights on creating her largest piece yet for an exhibition taking place in November 2022 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
“I want to take my work to another level, three dimensionally in space,” she said. “It’ll be able to dangle in space and bounce light around, so instead of being flat it will change in different ways depending on the different positions it’s in.”
Blades already has two pieces hanging in Midtown: one in the lobby of the Coda building, which catches the morning light and scatters rainbows of color across the lobby, and another smaller piece that hangs in her studio window. She often meets curious Midtowners who come across her work and want to learn more, and she’s been known to invite people in for impromptu studio tours.
“My favorite part of working in Midtown is running into people on the streets here,” she said.
Midtown will be hosting its next Heart of the Arts Studio exhibition from December 4 through 6. Mark your calendars to come meet Blades and her colleagues and see what they’ve been creating in Midtown.