The Glory of Eyeball Assault
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because your eyes will thank you.
By Eugene S. Robinson
If Raw Power, New Bomb Turks and The Butthole Surfers don’t move you, and neither do Soundgarden, Black Flag, Skin Yard or grunge — the entirety of what artist Jim Blanchard cared about between 1982 and 2002 — you’re about to have no idea what we’re talking about.
The thing is, if you don’t have the eyes to see, your understanding of what’s being said around you, visually? It drops to around nil. Pictures and scribbles are diversions from whatever really serious shit you have going on. Like bills. Or looking for parking spaces. Or whatever else adults do. You’re just not paying attention.
But if you’re attuned to it and the voiceless language of lines on paper gets its hooks in you, you’re gotten. And in 1975, Oklahoma native Jim Blanchard was getting gotten. Courtesy of? His parents’ record collection — and specifically Jimi Hendrix. Not just the guitar screech of Hendrix either, but the visual impact and pop of The Who, Grand Funk and Black Sabbath, which by 1982 had all given way to punk-derived American hardcore.
Which is right around the time Blanchard hit San Francisco and everything changed.
“Visually, hardcore was just much more gnarly. Harsher. More primitive and more extreme,” says Blanchard from Seattle, where he now lives. So the lines had started to talk to him. And not just talk to him but explain themselves to him in a way that suggested absolutely EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. Drawing since he was about 4 or 5 years old — his parents had given him a big set of magic markers to while away the time while they we were living in Norway with no TV — what he saw when he got to San Francisco for the briefest of visits was hardcore in full swing. Which meant magazines, fanzines, handbills and fliers, record covers and a visual styling that leaned heavily on the aforementioned everything and anything all ensconced in the rat-a-tat of hardcore punk rock.
Illustrations that caused critics to generally dismiss it as puerile and, according to Blanchard, one printer to ask him, “Are you on drugs, son?”
“It was a pretty intense and revolutionary time,” says Steve Ballinger, former publisher of Feral Youth magazine and now a surgeon. “And it was for the most part totally uncovered by mainstream media.” It was that kind of disconnect that let Blanchard head back to Oklahoma (where the wind comes whipping down the plains) with a big stack of records and zines. Driven by this and an early love of comic books, Mad magazine, Wacky Packages (pretty scabrous kids’ stickers that caused a sensation back in the ’70s), 17-year-old Blanchard banged out the first issue of his first magazine, Blatch. On his mother’s typewriter, no less, and with his crazed and crazily involved illustrations.
Illustrations that caused critics to generally dismiss it as puerile and, according to Blanchard, one printer to ask him, “Are you on drugs, son?” Well, eventually, but once bitten, Blanchard was not likely to be shy, and outside of a few restaurant gigs and a brief stint as a union laborer to keep the dogs at bay, he’s not held a day job since 1996. He’s been earning a living by freelancing his ass off, doing commissioned pieces for collectors, record covers for bands [Total disclosure: Blanchard’s art graces the covers of the first two OXBOW records, the author’s band — Eds.] and work at Fantagraphics Books, publishers of his 2016 wholly obsession-worthy book, Visual Abuse: Jim Blanchard’s Graphic Art 1982–2002.
The book, heavily inspired by one of his visual favorites, The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams — a treatise on art by, well, Robert Williams — Visual Abuse breaks down Blanchard’s styles into chapters with written intros for context. And it’s mesmerizing. Watching him evolve through hardcore punk then hitting a stride with grunge and then his more high-toned later stuff, it’s clear Blanchard still hasn’t abandoned crazy, confrontational punk-rock shit either, up to and including a few well-publicized pranks covered in the book.
“Jim Blanchard is an OG punk-rock-flier master who didn’t rest on his laurels when he easily could have at a certain point,” says New York artist Abe Lincoln Jr. “Grunge is not grunge as it was without him, and his hyper-realistic portraiture makes him an artistic country cousin of Drew Friedman. Authentic as fuck.”
Or as his spirit familiar, punk-rock artist Pat Moriarity, says, putting a much finer point on why my lust for Blanchard’s art is both well-served and well-deserved: “Jim Blanchard always struck me as slightly dangerous, both in his personality and art.” Moriarity adds, “He uses other tools and techniques no one else I know uses, and his choice of people to do portraits of is always folks you’d never expect to see depicted the way they are. It’s fine art with disturbing topics.” Indeed.