Blake Chamberlain is a Seattle-based painter originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State. He is the creator of several portrait series celebrating activists and social visionaries from throughout history, as well as augmented portraits that challenge expectations placed on the human form. His work has been featured in exhibitions in the Seattle area and New York State. He was also recently commissioned to paint a series of murals in the Visitor Center of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY.
In 2016, Blake received a GAP from Artist Trust to fund his “Trans American History” portrait series, which is currently on view at Pocket Theater. The project features ten portraits of notable transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary activists, including Sylvia Rivera, Riki Wilchins, Mara Kiesling, and Laverne Cox. Blake was inspired to create the project in response to the 2015 bathroom bills, which sparked public backlash against trans people. “The main message of this legislation as I saw it was that trans people should disappear or be humiliated,” says Blake. “It seemed the right time to create something affirming of trans identities and history.”
Blake’s interest in experimental use of colors and detailed graphic style began after he started gender affirming therapy six years ago. He began creating portraits using small shapes and patterns around the same time, and continued to create works in this style because, he says, “the style goes further than representation.”
“After recognizing the arrangement as the likeness I was after,” he explains, “my eye would be drawn into the individual colorful pieces that comprised it. I like that this creates a kind of small reflective pause on the subject as the piece is examined.”
Asked if he has any advice for aspiring artists, Blake says it took him way too long to learn two things: “1) almost every artist I have ever met has imposter syndrome. If it is important to you to create, you are worthy of creating and there is plenty of room for your creations. 2) From someone who was regretfully lazy about painting earlier in life: practice is the most important thing. Especially having the discipline to work through times when you don’t feel like it. Nothing results in quality like quantity.”
Blake’s “Trans American History” series and other recent works are on view at The Pocket Theater through October 31, and there will be an artist reception on Friday, October 27 at 6pm. Learn more about the exhibition and Blake’s work here.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She’s obsessed with libraries, art and radio, and aspires toward a future career in nonprofit communications and/or arts administration.