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Dirty pictures

Audrey Blackburn finds beauty in the darndest places


Natural media: beats paying for paint.
  • Natural media: beats paying for paint.

If the police were to search Audrey Blackburn's 2001 Toyota Prius, they'd find gallon Ziploc baggies full of ... dirt. That's what happens when your artistic addiction can be fed by pulling over to the side of the road.

Her "Micah and Sticks Series # 4 Mountains and Joints" is made of pecan sticks from her backyard in Austin, Texas; ruddy beach sand from Port Aransas, Texas; and gypsum sand from near White Sands in New Mexico.

Blackburn's yen for painting in dirt began when she tried to make her own oil paint. Typically, oil paint is prepared by grinding ochre (earth) and mixing it with linseed oil. But Blackburn found breaking up dirt with a mortar and pestle a bit tedious. After all, who likes a girl with triceps fit for Hulk Hogan?

When her pigments failed to reach the proper fineness, Blackburn decided to go native, letting the ochre retain its texture.

"The paints look just as neat chunky," she says, "as they do fine."

Blackburn's most exotic material? Gray glacial silt from Exit Glacier in Alaska. She collected the glacial rock, ground by centuries of movement, on a vacation she took with her father, local potter Frank Gray.

Blackburn says her father's medium opened her to using earth. The two will show pieces they've created together, as well as their own works, at a joint show called Earth to Hand at the Business of Art Center.

Despite their closeness, Gray is hardly Blackburn's only influence. The 29-year-old also considers Georgia O'Keeffe an inspiration. Blackburn once gathered ochre from Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, where O'Keeffe painted. Turning the conversation to dirt (as she often does), Blackburn says in that single area, there's purple, yellow and red soil.

Earth to Hand: New work by Audrey Blackburn and Frank Gray

Business of Art Center's Avenue Gallery, 515 Manitou Ave.

Runs June 27 through July 24; opening reception, Friday, June 29, 4-6 p.m.

For more information, visit or call 685-1861.

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