TYING IT ALL TOGETHER.  Blair Thurman is at the opening of the ‘Underwater Blue’ (‘Nell’Acqua Azzurra’) exhibition hosted by Gagosian in Milan, that takes place until May 17th in the space of Lapo Elkann’s Garage Italia.

Blair, how come you decided to exhibit your work at Garage Italia in Milan?

It’s the sort of thing I have been waiting to do all my life.  It’s a combination of Italy, Ferrari, Lapo Elkann, and a kind of a destiny in a way.  Years ago I used to work in Milan and Venice.  I was the assistant of the Korean American artist Nam June Paik for ten years in the Nineties.  He did a number of Biennales in Venice and worked in Milan.

Where do you live?

I live in Hudson, which is in upstate New York.  It’s a town founded by the whaling oil business, a little bit like Nantucket.

“I was aware that great painters had already done almost everything at least once.”

Interior of Garage Italia during the Blair Thurman ‘Underwater Blue’ (‘Nell’Acqua Azzurra’) exhibition hosted by Gagosian ® Tullio M. Puglia – Getty Images for Garage Italia

Is your art mainly about automobiles?

Not really.  It’s about nostalgia and the history of painting, and some of the forms of the art come from automobiles and roads because the track or the circuit was an elegant solution to a formal problem.

What problem?

How to make a new kind of painting when I was aware that great painters had already done almost everything at least once.

And so?

My concept was a ‘less-than’ painting, which means something very simple that leads you to the next thing, very much like you have in Garage Italia with the customisation wall.

When did you start?

In 1988, first in school and then in New York.  Later my friendship with the painter Steven Parrino and his work led me to a breakthrough in elegant simplicity.  I realised that the circuit was the quickest expression of infinity, which is obvious, but it took me probably six or seven years to figure that out.  The car track toys from my childhood became the perfect ‘less-than’ that I had in mind.

“The show spans twenty years of my work”

How come the Gagosian Gallery decided to organise this new show with Garage Italia?

I am very lucky to have two men at Gagosian who understand my work, Andy Avini and Jean Olivier Despres, who proposed the idea.  They understand the synergy with the movie called ‘Toby Dammit’ by Fellini.  This obscure movie that they are showing in the exhibition is a very important movie for me, based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story about art and death and the devil.  I saw this as a young man.  An actor goes to Rome to get an award and they promise him a Ferrari.  He escapes the ceremony, driving around a labyrinth in dark Italian country towns, but finds there is no escape.  I believe the ‘golden Ferrari’ he is promised is the 1964 330 LMB Fantuzzi.

Here at Garage Italia there is a Ferrari on show?

It’s a 1953 Ferrari Scaglietti, a unique one, very special.  It has the same style as the Fantuzzi.

How many of your works are in the show?


Which ones?

The show spans twenty years of my work, and there is a linear progression – several generations – of a formal development.  For example, the black and white painting is my business card.  I liked it because it had an oval track motif that showed ownership and identity.  I like the serial repetition.


The name of the blue painting with the holes is called ‘Dallas Book (2016)’ because it was made for a Dallas show and because it folds like a book.

What does it have to do with Dallas?

Dallas Book Depository is the building the guy was in when he shot JFK, so it is to remember somehow the assassination of President Kennedy in a non-heavy way.  The formal development is the holes and it becomes three-dimensional.

Another work?

The third work I want to mention is iconic for me.  It’s called ‘Day-Glo Tripper (2016)’, like ‘Day Tripper’ the Beatles song, but Day-Glo is a fluorescent yellow colour.  It’s a work that I have used as a customising platform.  I have probably done forty of them.

Blair Thurman and Lapo Elkann at Garage Italia ® Tullio M. Puglia – Getty Images for Garage Italia

Nell’Acqua Azzurra ® Vincenzo Lombardo – Getty Images for Garage Italia

Nell’Acqua Azzurra ® Vincenzo Lombardo – Getty Images for Garage Italia

Garage Italia Exterior ® Vincenzo Lombardo – Getty Images for Garage Italia

Nell’Acqua Azzurra ® Vincenzo Lombardo – Getty Images for Garage Italia

Blair Thurman ‘Nell’Acqua Azzurra’ ® Tullio M. Puglia – Getty Images for Garage Italia

“At 57 I want to connect and complete the various chains of form and subject.”

What about the painting that is the cover of the exhibition?

Based on the Daytona Race Track, it’s called ‘Spectre’.  It also has a much older painting behind it.  It has the shape of the Daytona Circuit and I did the first Daytona painting in 1995.

Are automobiles a passion of yours or just a symbolic inspiration for your work?

It’s really both, because I love to drive.  But for me it’s not a race.  I like cross country driving, or what I call road tripping, and I have paintings that I call ‘Road Tripping paintings’.  These are the road signs, like Route 66 for example, but it becomes a UFO.  The Chevron shape is a little bit like a space ship.

Is it hard to be an American artist today and do you feel sufficiently recognised?

I think the difference today versus the artists I admire, for example the Italian Spatialist Movement painters like Paolo Scheggi and Agostino Bonalumi, is that we no longer have the context of a group.  We do not have the critical, literary and philosophical underpinning cohesion that you get from a group of people that speaks and meets.  It’s not sad, it’s just different.  And to be an American is maybe hard, but it comes and it goes.

Why is the exhibition titled ‘Underwater Blue’ (‘Nell’Acqua Azzurra’)?

The title and the title painting was really a portrait of Lapo, because I knew of him a little, his exuberance and force of optimism, and his crazy love of blue.

What are your plans after this show?

This show is very important for me and marks the beginning of a period in my life when I am trying to tie all of my work together.  Now that I am 57 I want to connect and complete the various chains of form and subject.  I have a little show in Zurich coming up with a good friend, another painter.


Milan, April 17th 2018

Blair Thurman’s portrait ©Mario Teli/Highlight Studio


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