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Signed, dated 1999 and titled verso, oil on linen.
Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, New York.
Private Collection, United Kingdom.
Contemporary painter Ross Bleckner gained prominence during the 1980s AIDS crisis with work that sought to visualize or quantify the human toll and heartbreaking loss of the pandemic. Large-scale works such as 8,122+ as of January 1986 presented richly painted funereal imagery, while literally accounting for the number of deaths from AIDS at the time of its creation. Other images of birds, flowers, or light emerging from darkness honored and memorialized Bleckner’s fellow artists and friends during the crisis.
In the late 1990s, Bleckner worked to visualize disease in another way, based on scientific images his father found while researching his own prostate cancer. Again, a deeply emotionally connected event for Bleckner, the cancer seemed surprisingly “beautiful” to him, mysterious in the way it grew and multiplied and yet created sickness and pain, and eventually death for his father. The artist said: “...the kind of intersection between us being people with consciousness and awareness, and us being vectors for virus. That always has fascinated me.”  The present painting, Bonds and Proteins serves as an important example from this period, exemplifying Bleckner’s cell motif, his notion of the “overexpression” of cells that become cancer.
Bleckner grew up in New York City and Long Island and saw his first exhibition as a teen - The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York - an Op Art exhibition which sparked his imagination and fueled his interest in pursuing a career as an artist. He attended New York University and studied under artists Sol LeWitt and Chuck Close, before heading to California for graduate school at California Institute of the Arts. Bleckner returned to New York in 1974 and bought a loft in Tribeca that became home to fellow artist Julian Schnabel, as well as the popular Mudd Club nightclub. Cunningham Ward Gallery presented the artist’s first solo exhibition in 1975. His work then caught the attention of Mary Boone, whose gallery represented Bleckner for nearly three decades. He was the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum at the age of 45, the youngest artist at the time to receive a major museum retrospective exhibition.
Building off of early experimentation with Op Art motifs, Bleckner was one of the pioneers of the kind of all-over abstraction typical of 1990s painting. In his 1999 Bonds and Proteins, cells bind together in a dense, organic structure, with individual chains intertwining, floating, and mutating toward the viewer, as if under a microscope. He created the cell structures using an airbrush to blow the paint on the canvas “to create these pools of cells that blob onto each other and connect and disconnect, and mutate...to be that organic process.”  While work throughout his career has often involved a means of destruction - using a blowtorch to the canvas or wiping away paint to smear the image - this painting instead speaks to accumulation, growth, and the building up of communities of forms, a mark-making that covers the surface completely. Bonds and Proteins provides a timely examination into the nature of disease, its seeming abstraction, and yet the very tangible ways it affects our lives.
 Linda Yablonsky, “Oral history interview with Ross Bleckner,” July 6-8, 2016, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-ross-bleckner-17359, PDF download p. 87.
 Yablonsky, p.88.
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