Artist Norman Blackwell's creative path has taken him far from the sweltering south, but it's unmistakably rooted in Savannah.
Blackwell realized he had an artistic bent at the early age of 5, and received his first formal art education at Savannah High School, where he was a member of an accelerated group of students who graduated after three years. He took his first professional art classes just after World War II at the Telfair Academy and eventually received his BFA from the University of Georgia, then went on to post-grad at UCLA and the University of Cincinnati.
Blackwell spent most of his professional career at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati in the advertising department, but in 1979, when SCAD was seeking its first gallery director, Blackwell applied for and got the job.
“It was a great experience for several years and then in 1982, I was asked to change jobs and recruit,” says Blackwell. “I tried it but it was not for me. I had a wonderful relationship with President [Paula] Wallace and her ability to plan and execute new ideas absolutely amazed me. I have watched SCAD grow and I am proud that I had the opportunity to be a very small part of it.”
The current exhibition on view through Sept. 30 at the Jewish Educational Alliance Art Gallery is a continuation of Blackwell's deep connection to Savannah.
“A close friend of mine had a show recently at the JEA. I attended the opening and fell in love with the gallery,” explains Blackwell. “My friend suggested that I apply for a show and I did. I've been in a lot of galleries in my life but this one is beautiful and it fascinates me.
“Except for portraits, my work is done in a style I created. It is named 'neo-pointillism,' a method of creating a painting and then covering it with three-dimensional dots of paint. It is amazing to see the transformation that takes place when the dots are applied. That is the theme of this show.”
Over many years of creative laboring, Blackwell's work has received quite a lot of attention, as he explains.
“My work has been shown in many places in the USA, but I do have gallery representation in London, as well as New York City and Los Angeles (Agora, Saatchi, Getty). It is in private collections around the world, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, the president of Algeria (four in their National Museum), a world-famous evangelist (whose name I cannot mention) and many entertainment and sports celebrities," he says.
You can meet and chat with the artist at a reception Sept. 6. Given his history, Blackwell has good perspective on Savannah's art scene and he's excited by what he sees happening currently.
"The art scene in Savannah is booming, which is great,” says Blackwell. “You can find just about any style of art you want here and most of it is top-notch. I really like the fact that artists and art lovers are becoming more visible and have a good idea of what appeals to them and what does not. Sometimes it takes years for an art lover to head in the right direction, and Savannah is certainly the place to do it.
"I can remember just a few years ago when there were virtually no galleries in Savannah, and now you need a day or so to visit them all and that thrills me!”
IF YOU GO
What: Norman Blackwell exhibition
When: Through Sept. 30; reception 4-6 p.m. Sept. 6
Where: JEA Art Gallery, 5111 Abercorn St.