Andrew Blythe (b. 1962) is a self-taught artist who has worked daily for the past 18 years at the Toi Ora Live Art Trust, a community arts center in Auckland, New Zealand, which provides gallery space for people who have experienced mental illness. Blythe was recurrently hospitalized in his adolescence, and it was at this time when he started making art. The artist sees his paintings as an ongoing dialogue of free expression and catharsis, saying: “I am an empty vessel when I paint.”
Through recurring and precise mark-making, Blythe weaves rich visual textures that are as mysterious as they are concrete; paint obscures the surface or “emerges” from it, resulting in works with aboriginal or cosmological associations. Because there is no plan in place before he starts working, the patterns produced through repetition take on a ritualistic dimension—or the artist channeling an internal rhythm into a deeply personal geography.
Blythe is figurative only to the extent that he often incorporates language and signs; a kind of enigmatic and emotionally charged binary code that can be read in terms of graphic power or as a conduit to meaning: a large “no” reads loud and sharp, whereas a dense grouping of “x”s reads as the jumbled collective voice of a crowd. “I try to beautify my beasts,” says the artist, who reveals that he hears voices “all day, all the time.”
Stuart Shepherd writes:
“[Blythe’s paintings] can be read sometimes in a linear way; when the meandering thoughts and crosses lead the eye on a trail that mixes the deliberate with the random. And they can also be read in a non-linear way when his painterly layering technique, like layering one sheet of chicken-wire on top of another, requires us to decipher which brush strokes went down first. To engage with his work in this way again demands a closer look and a little more time.
[The artist’s] work often plays with, or rather studies, the balance of purpose and chance, or control and accident … For example, he might test the way the paint dribbles off an overloaded brush, but not so much that it runs off everywhere, but just enough so that it can be repeated to make a pattern. Or the way a brushed line of acrylic paint can run back over itself, as it dries, to create a maze-like palimpsest through which we can see glimpses of the original surface … [Blythe] has written about cities and their unstoppable momentum; perhaps it is the city, its energy and its process of layering, overlapping and canceling out that finds expression in [his] work.”