Fort Worth artist Christopher Blay prefers not to talk about himself. In fact, he will not. “My work is more than my biography,” he explains.
Instead, Blay designates his art as functioning as an extension of who he is as a person and his interests. “I can talk about my work as using everyday materials to describe the world from my perspective,” he says. Blay’s creative interests include art, photography and community, and his work covers all three of those areas using materials that are very specific to what he’s doing.
American Trip Road is the title of Blay’s art he created from found images. The works came from his experience of going through garage sales, thrift stores and antique shops collecting photographs. Going through those images, Blay realized that 99 percent do not show African Americans. “I don’t see that as some sort of sabotaging of history. It’s just a snapshot of the way the world looked at the time,” he says. “The most visible and recorded images for posterity were images that did not include African Americans.” His attempt was to recontextualize those images. “I felt if an alien landed on Earth and collected all the images from that period, they would think that the images they had were a true reflection of the people who existed on this planet. For me, juxtaposing those images, reframing them and recontextualizing them, was a way to give a more accurate picture of everyone who existed at the time,” Blay says.
The Ark on Noah St. in Dallas speaks to Blay’s dedication to community engagement. Blay designed a Noah’s Ark in March of 2014 on the parking lot of Greater El Bethel Baptist Church to draw attention to vacant and abandoned homes threatening the Historic 10th Street District. He and neighborhood residents used a 20-foot shipping container covered with doors, windows and screens that were collected from a salvage yard and from abandoned homes. The dimensions were 30 feet long, 16 feet high and 8 feet wide. This is a recurring project. The vessel, which remains for 40 days and 40 nights, will be rebuilt on May 2. A festival has been created around it as a way of creating a cultural capital for the neighborhood. In the spirit of animals two-by-two, Blay gives the residents 2-foot square panels and encourages them to create their family stories. Many of them add photographs, letters and family histories.
“When the inevitable development comes and displaces because of all the vacancies in the neighborhood, there’s a hope that with something culturally significant there, the neighborhood will be tied to the greater Dallas community, and there will be some inclusion of the residents to make it affordable,” Blay explains. “The residents there can’t move to more affluent neighborhoods.”
Blay's initial inspiration in creating art came from his two older brothers. He and his friends drew from Marvel comic books and tried to draw the way his brothers did. In his preteen years, Blay wrote an illustrated Sci-Fi story about a city in the clouds with strange stairways that went through both worlds.
His formal study of art began at Tarrant County College, 17 years ago. Blay received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Texas Christian University in 2003.
“Although I think art is a serious pursuit, I also think that sometimes it creates more barriers to communication than actually communicating. My work kind of lies in the middle of that,” he says. “We have life coming at us at such a fast pace that sometimes it prevents us from doing things we want to do. I try to make art in spite of that.”
Blay is engaged in preliminary planning for a sculptural public art installation on East Rosedale Avenue for the City of Fort Worth through the Public Art Commission.