SCOTT SIMON, host:
Jeremy Blake was someone to watch. The New York Times said the digital animator's work was, quote, "an utterly 21st century art form, a hallucinatory bitstream of data."
But last July, at age 37, Jeremy Blake committed suicide, a week after his longtime girlfriend — also an artist — took her own life. Today, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., opens "Wild Choir: The Cinematic Portraits of Jeremy Blake."
NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: Jeremy Blake's portraits are short movies, each under 15 minutes. But you could watch them over and over again and still find things to marvel at. Wildly colorful with sound and narration, Blake used digital technology to make films with a dizzying number of images.
His own vivid paintings, cartoons and science fiction illustrations, architecture and fashion photography, all timed to the soundtrack with an often surprising and humorous effect.
(Soundbite of short movie)
Unidentified Man: Once upon a glorious time…
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: In a world increasingly bereft of ideas…
BLAIR: Malcolm McLaren, the punk impresario who managed the Sex Pistols, is the subject of one of Jeremy Blake's portraits. Jonathan Binstock, who curated the show at the Corcoran, says Jeremy Blake admired McLaren for taking risks.
Mr. JONATHAN BINSTOCK (Curator, Corcoran Gallery of Art): Jeremy was inspired by his energy, his vitality, his open-ended, creative mindset.
BLAIR: Binstock says the same could be said about Jeremy Blake himself. Blake grew up in Takoma Park, Maryland. His parents took him to the museums and galleries in nearby Washington, D.C.
His mom, Anne Schwartz-Delibert, says he was constantly creating.
Ms. ANNE SCHWARTZ-DELIBERT (Jeremy Blake's Mother): He drew "Star Wars," starship things for the longest time. And when he was little, he went through a phase of drawing mazes, and then he created his own comic book characters. And then he just filled notebooks with drawings when he was in high school.
BLAIR: Jeremy Blake went on to study at the Corcoran, the Art Institute of Chicago and Cal Arts. His digital animation caught a lot of people's attention, including filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. He asked Blake to design digital sequences for his movie, "Punch-Drunk Love." And rock musician Beck hired Blake to make a video for his song, "Round the Bend." The result was a mesmerizing film where fluorescent lines and shapes fused with gorgeous photography and drawings of flowers.
Jeremy Blake was also known in art circles in New York and Los Angeles as the long-time partner of Theresa Duncan, an artist in her own right. Jonathan Binstock says they were a couple you didn't forget.
Mr. BINSTOCK: Theresa and Jeremy were beautiful, glamorous, alarmingly brilliant people, who resonated intellectually with each other in the most magnetic ways. I always felt like I was swimming in deep waters when I was having a conversation with them.
BLAIR: On July 10th, Theresa Duncan committed suicide with a combination of alcohol and pills. One week later, Jeremy Blake walked into the Atlantic Ocean off Rockaway Beach in Queens. His body was recovered five days later off the coast of New Jersey.
Mr. DAVID BERMAN (Poet; Singer): I am definitely the kind of man who knows when it's over.
BLAIR: Suicide is something David Berman knows about. The poet and singer is the subject of another of Jeremy Blake's portraits. In 2004, Berman recorded his poetry for Jeremy Blake's film, "Sodium Fox." Blake's captivating visuals add even more humor to Berman's rye verse.
Mr. BERMAN: (unintelligible) total strangers.
(Soundbite of music)
BLAIR: Jeremy Blake was drawn to David Berman. They were both in their 30s and had a similar sense of humor. Speaking from his home in Nashville, Berman says he had just come out of rehab after trying to overdose when Blake asked him if they could work together.
Mr. BERMAN: And so I think Jeremy knew in approaching me, he was approaching a guy who had just tried to kill himself. It's almost like I chose death, but it's for some reason it didn't — the request didn't go through.
Unidentified Man: I love your bike.
BLAIR: To sounds of shortwave radio, "Sodium Fox" ends at a beach. On the sand, there is what looks like a grave, marked with a black flag with a skull on it. And throughout, long shots of the ocean, images that resonate with the circumstances of Jeremy Blake's own death.
Mr. BERMAN: You know, that may be some place that he always thought as the portal to death.
BLAIR: The film ends on what seems like a positive, even spiritual image of a glistening colorful star superimposed over the water.
"Wild Choir: The Cinematic Portraits of Jeremy Blake" at the Corcoran Gallery runs through March 2nd. In New York, the gallery that represented Jeremy Blake, Kinz, Tillou and Feigen opens a memorial exhibition on November 10th.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
SIMON: And you can watch video excerpts of Jeremy Blake's cinematic portraits on our Web site, npr.org.
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