Ross Bleckner on His Comeback and Mary Boone

The veteran painter Ross Bleckner is a wised-up sort when it comes to matters of perception and reputation.

“So this is a comeback story?” he asked, perhaps hopefully, during an interview in his Chelsea studio last month.

Mr. Bleckner, 69, made his name in the 80s and 90s by channeling the anger and sorrow of the AIDS crisis into somber, abstract paintings. Since then, he has been painting steadily, lately from his base in the Hamptons.

He hasn’t had a show in New York in five years, but on April 24 he debuts a suite of more than a dozen canvases at Petzel Gallery in the show “Pharmaceutria” (“sorceress” in Latin). It furthers Mr. Bleckner’s exploration of modes of perception.

The large-scale compositions are mostly black-and-white, with flowers, faces and hands emerging out of the abstract swirls in some places. The burned areas turn white, creating a hazy, ghostly effect.

“My work is really about consciousness more than anything,” said Mr. Bleckner. These days, he meditates and takes, as he says, “consciousness drugs.”

Not that he’s too touchy-feely when it comes to making the new paintings: He burns them with a blowtorch as part of their creation, so that in one sense, they’re “destroyed,” he said.

“I think about it as a resurrection,” he added.

In a phone conversation, Ms. Boone addressed the matter but said only, “I can’t tell you what Ross was aware of. It’s hard to speculate on what people remember.”

Though roiled by his share of personal drama, Mr. Bleckner said that it was the political theater of 2016 and the election of President Donald Trump that fueled the rough surfaces of the paintings in “Pharmaceutria.” One of the works has a tiny bit of text, rare in his art, that says, “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN.”

“I start them by bringing out my anxiety and my fear and my anger at our world,” Mr. Bleckner said. “My question is, why can’t everything just be beautiful?”

At a time when politically and socially engaged art is omnipresent, Mr. Bleckner can be seen as an early adopter.

Of his works from 1980s and 1990s, Jane Panetta, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, said, “His paintings grappling with the AIDS crisis are some of the strongest we have from that moment.”

She added, “Formally, he’s impressive. You can stand there and just appreciate how he applies paint to the canvas.”

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