Pain, anguish, starvation and acceptance all fueled Thomas Blackshear's journey to his latest project.
After 14 years as a commercial illustrator, the overtly religious 54-year-old local artist found himself in a confused state that led him to fast for 40 days and 40 nights in an attempt to regain himself and his work.
"It's not like I planned on doing the fast," Blackshear says. "It just happened. God inspired me to do it."
During the period, Blackshear was inspired to paint — a process he'd seldom practiced since the success of his commercial work, which includes highly popular African-American figurines, Star Wars and Star Trek collectible plates, and a "Black Heritage" stamp series for the U.S. Postal Service.
From the trial was born a series of 30 paintings of angels, the first of which is on display in the Ancient Future exhibit at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts. The show also includes a "Prophetic" series of oil paintings from curator debi Story Maddox and work from sculptor Don Green (perhaps most recognized by his stallion sculpture between Centennial Hall and the Pikes Peak Center).
Blackshear has contributed five works to the exhibit, including three from his new series and two of his earlier paintings, "Night and Day," and "The Vessel," which he believes contributed greatly to his success as an artist.
While the most recent paintings are consistent with Blackshear's Christian influence, he says his newest painting, called "Fanning the Flame," expresses his "wild side." In it, a kimono-clad Asian angel calmly sits holding a fan, though her hair is on fire. She appears neither frightened nor disturbed by the flames, Blackshear says, because "she is part of it. She is part of the flames and they're part of her."
Blackshear notes that the image was inspired by a Bible verse about fanning one's spiritual flame: "It's a fresh approach to a subject that has been done before."
And it's just one of the vivid images to come out of his fast-induced prolific phase, the likes of which the former Hallmark Cards illustrator — who's also worked for Jim Henson Studios, George Lucas Studios and Disney Pictures, among others — says he hasn't experienced before.
"This is the start of seeing Thomas grow into a painter," Blackshear says. "I haven't done a lot of painting to this point, but now I'm planning on concentrating on that for a while."