This electric and inventive progress-through-industry themed gouache painting by Mahlon Blaine is signed and dated 1955. The image dramatizes the industrial era with a shirtless industrial worker forging steel in a machine age apocalyptic scene that draws its light and intensity and sense of movement from the fire’s sparking glow emitted from within an ominous furnace.
Capturing the best of Mahlon Blaine’s imaginative style, this is a technically masterful and WPA inspired work with its abstracted objectification of the shirtless, muscled worker, and could not have conceived by any other illustrator that comes to mind. Painting is handsomely framed and matted behind glass in an Bauhaus aesthetic modernist gallery frame that complements the works very well.
Mahlon Blaine’s best work walked the razor’s edge between the grotesque and beautiful. Though few facts of his life are verifiable, insomuch as anyone can gather, he lived in that no man’s land as well. A childhood accident left the artist — who was born in 1984 — blind in his left eye, an accident that contributes to the flattened perspective that marks his work. Though he alleged to have seen combat in World War I, the Army rarely drafted the half blind. A well-documented chronic injury to his left arm was unlikely to have come from a war wound. The plate in his head of which he boasted was probably fictional. Few photographs of the artist survive, but his self-portraits further the likely fake war hero persona.
Blaine’s devotion to the macabre, the bizarre, and the sexual aspects of his art put the brakes on his commercial career. Though, patrons bought his original works during his lifetime, his cult status today emerged only through his rediscovery by sci-fi collectors and underground cartoonists. Still, Blaine’s admirers during his lifetime were fierce. Along with magician Jack Dunninger, who literally kept Blaine fed during lean times (often complaining about the artist’s prodigious appetite), Blaine gathered fans in the elite of New York City’s design world.