Jon Blake AKA Crazy Red Beard

Performance Art

By Chris Brunelle

At a recent gallery opening in Tribeca, I was struck by one painting in particular.  It stood out from the crowd not only in style but also in sheer energy.  Where most paintings around it seemed tame and well behaved, this one grabbed your eyes, pulled them in, and partied with them.  I sought out the gallery program to find out the title and artist of this captivating work.  As I came back to the painting with this information in hand, a friendly fellow gallery attendee casually eased in and introduced himself.  Although I might use different words, he had a crazy red beard.  Well, not crazy per se but definitely grand.  It’s the kind of facial hair that really takes some commitment.  In the current downtown Manhattan art scene, he stood out because he looked for lack of a better word, like a hippy.  He revealed himself as the man behind this painting.  It was entitled, “This Is What Love Looks Like,” and he explained that he created this piece live on stage to the accompaniment of a live band.  He literally performed this work of art in front of audience.  This method couldn’t have translated more clearly in terms of the vibrant energy it conveyed.  When you think of an artist painting, the first thing that would come to mind would be someone in a studio or possibly out in nature, maybe some classical music playing lightly in the background.  I’m sure reality would show us a variety of ways that would contradict this paradigm.  But Jon Blake has made his method into an event and feeds off the energy of the band and the audience and channels it unfiltered onto his canvas and the result is as compelling as the process. In “This Is What Love Looks Like,” Blake uses the word “love” as the star of the canvas in what he refers to as “The Love Experiment.”  The work contains no other character than that word over and over again in a chaotic dancing interplay which I suspect is much like the audience at his shows; full of love, full of energy, and colliding in a manic dance.  In expressing interest in where I could find more of his work, he said, “Promise not to laugh, my website is”  I did laugh.  I don’t think in a mean way.  And for the first time in my life, I actually remembered a URL someone told me about when I sat down at my computer a few days later.

In exploring his website, you get a little more context for each of his works.  He lists the date, city, state, venue, and band that were all part of the particular painting event.  This grounds his work with a direct connection to the reality surrounding its creation.  It also acts as a birth certificate for each painting.  The titles of these works read like a set list for a psychedelic rock band.  Many of his pieces remind of tapestries as the individual figures and shapes within his paintings intertwine in a way that covers the entirety of the canvas as can be seen in “Square One: How To Make Your Own Weather” and “Tap In.”  Blake also seems influenced by graffiti artists as his work has a street spray paint quality that at times can remind of Keith Haring in particular as is evident in “Wake Up and Start a Fiasco” and “Manchine”. The tapestry weave of paint lends to an idea that all is connected in Blake’s world.  He sees a harmony in all things as is particularly evident in “Happy Buddha Is You” and “In The Son.”  The hints of graffiti artist in his style combined with the live performance of his paintings suggest that Blake is interested in art as a grassroots community activity.  He’s taking art out of the studios and the galleries, demystifying the process, and celebrating creativity with everyone around him.

Blake has of course created some of his work in the studio and it is just as impressive but has a much different feel.  The lines are more refined and organized and probably more thought out.  If you have any doubt that Blake is some wanna-be-Pollock throwing paint on canvases at rock concerts, you will see he’s got the skills to pay the bills in works like “Nasser Victis” and “James Dean Is Dead.”  I encourage you to visit, view Jon Blake’s work, and see when he’ll be doing his next live painting.


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