His prodigious creative output continued through the following decades, as he moved to Washington, D.C., and then back to the Bay Area. Blackwell—a bit of a Renaissance man—published three books, several plays, and a number of poems. He also fine-tuned his distinctive method of artmaking: To account for his impaired vision, the artist leans in close to his work, his face hovering just two or three inches away from the page. He works primarily in ink, which he squirts onto his canvas in swatches of raw, vibrant color. Occasionally, he asks those around him for help in selecting the right shade. His
-tinged canvases are often inspired by jazz, peppered with wailing saxophones or thrumming upright basses. Others depict tribal masks on fields of intense primary colors.
Building on the momentum Blackwell has developed over the past decade, ArtLifting is exposing new, tech-savvy customers to the artist’s work. He hopes these additional sales can help him secure stable housing, something he’s struggled to find for years amidst the skyrocketing prices of the Bay Area’s housing market.
But despite continued challenges, ArtLifting’s artist outreach director Hillary Kaufman said Blackwell is resolutely optimistic. “I’ve never, ever heard or seen him express any negative sentiments about his situation or otherwise,” Kaufman says. “He’s the most positive person, and that speaks very strongly given his situation. I think that’s an important part of who he is—and who a lot of our artists are.”
Blackwell credits that positivity in part to something his family physician told him when he first went blind. “Our doctor, he said, ‘Take your defect and make it your asset.’ My blindness, in a sense, gives me the originality,” he explains. “Before, I was trained, I could do a sketch of you in a minute and a half. I could have been a courtroom artist. I can’t do that no more, so I just had to take another approach. I use my fingers, I use the bottom of a paintbrush, I pour the paint onto the paper.… I’d much rather do that. That’s what I’m after—that improvisation, that serendipity.”