When Christie Blizard was 16, she saw the white buffalo. Its name was Marigold.
Blizard was in the Dakotas, on a high school summer trip that followed the Lewis and Clark trail. To the Lakota people, the exceedingly rare white buffalo is a symbol that means a lot of things. It's a symbol of hope, the resurgence of a people, along the lines of the second coming.
For Blizard, it wasn't so specific. The white buffalo was her brush with something beyond the reach of explanation. It opened her up to a spiritual world, and it was shortly thereafter that she knew she wanted to become an artist.
"It became a metaphor for something that's a real animal, but also a portal to something sacred," Blizard said, as she stood near her new show at Women and Their Work.
Blizard, an assistant professor of painting at Texas Tech University, chose to divide the gallery into two worlds. On one side, a bizarro-world version of her studio/living room in Lubbock. The other side is in darkness, with a black-lit dreamworld.
The room side is a mess. There's a fireplace on an angled wall, but it's a picture of her Lubbock fireplace, printed on vinyl. The same is true for the light switches, outlets, thermostat and a window. Blizard's foam pallet occupies the center — even the bed is unmade. And all around there are art pieces, some strewn on the floor next to more common, more unusual objects. There's a small amp, a theremin, paint sample sheets, water bottles and an unopened beer can (a Happy Camper IPA).
It's also where she's sleeping while she's here in Austin.
It's a little hard to tell, but there is art for sale in here. Blizard is genuinely unsure about that side of things. After all, among her best known projects is her "Giveaways" for the Texas Biennial, where she stapled art — drawings or cutout chevrons — to telephone poles around Austin, with an accompanying note: "You can have this, if you want it."
"I almost always go back to check that they've been taken," she said.
Blizard is, herself, a work of art — she lives and breathes art into her life, blurring the line between what she does and what she makes.
"I'm a workaholic," Blizard said. This much is obvious.
Blizard points to "Hanging Spectograms," strips of paint samples, glued in color patterns that hang like ribbon. "I probably spent a couple hundred hours on this piece," she said.
But even knowing that, Blizard's still not sure how the price tag fits into it. Not that she doesn't care for the money. It's just that she's not interested in the piece anymore.
"The minute I'm done with it I'm like, ‘whatever,' " she said, pushing her hand away like a dinner she's finished with.
Her work is shabby, often made out of discarded paintings, but its rough edges hide formal color studies, and the thought behind them. Those strips, for instance, are colored based on an algorithm of soundwaves from specific places. "Those are living room sounds," Blizard said, pointing to a strip of pastel greens.
There's a Lite-Brite made from a Casio box and Christmas lights. Blizard's also rolled up acetate paper, taped in long rolls with blinking lights in the center. These refer to lightsabers and didgeridoos.
"A lot of this is preserving a childhood wonder of the world, as I become an adult," she said.
In the dream room, a black light shines a pattern of chevrons that arc from the floor to the wall, pass through an animation and back. The path follows a huge vinyl printing of the river behind her parents' house in Indiana, a fertile place for dreams.
Blizard has a gift for text, especially on billboards, with short rhetorical statements that provoke and disarm. She wants them "to stand as counterpoints to these dogmatic, very religious" billboards that are so common throughout Texas highways.
"When I was 16 / I saw the / white buffalo," read one billboard.
Free art, if you want it, on a highway near Lubbock.