Ralph Albert Blakelock was one of the first American Tonalist painters to catch my eye, and I’ll always remember first seeing his beautiful ‘Vision of Life’ at the Art Institute of Chicago. Known for his sublime landscapes and soft depicting of moonlight, Blakelock’s works possess an eerie quality which made them sought after by collectors. Unfortunately for the artist, his particular style was also very easy to forge, and as a result many fake works flooded the market while Blakelock died in poverty. Even now an authentic Blakelock is difficult to determine, but modern science has aided to weeding out of fakes.
The subject of ‘Vision’ is a Native American tribe performing what was known as “The Ghost Dance,” a religious movement which—to make a long story short—fused Christianity with Native American beliefs. That information aside, ‘Vision of Life’ is a striking expression of energy, capturing its subjects engaged in dance by collecting their movements into a soft, colorful blur which appears illuminated in the night forest. For me this effect bridges the artist’s murky style with the work of 20th century abstract expressionists. Any of rate, his is a highly effective technique which grants anonymity of the subjects, urging use to instead focus on their exuberant celebration of life. To some degree, ‘Vision’ even reminds me of a certain dance floor I used to frequent.