LACEY, Wash. — Nobody saw the world quite like artist Gregory Blackstock. An autistic savant, his obsessive need to find order in his life led to an astonishing collection of art that has been collected around the world.
Blackstock died last week in Lacey, Washington. He was 77 years old.
He created more than 300 charts ranging from hardware tools and nuisance butterflies to candy canes and leghorn roosters. Every one of them drawn from memory. (Blackstock's memory was outstanding. He could recite word for word the dialogue from both "Old Yeller" and "Lady and the Tramp".)
"To Gregory, the world is kind of a large, unknowable random seeming kind of world," Greg Kucera told us in 2015. Kucera sells Blackstock's work at his gallery. "His way of ordering the world is to drop everything into classifications."
Each work is the result of hours of research Blackstock did with the help of local librarians. His cousin Dorothy Frisch said Blackstock did not like chaos and he didn't like unnamed things. In Blackstock's art, everything has its place.
In a forward to the book Blackstock's Collections, psychiatrist Darold A. Treffert described Blackstock as a "savant," writing that it is "a remarkable condition in which persons with autism or other developmental or central nervous system disorders have some extraordinary island of genius or ability that stands in stark contrast to their overall limitations."
Blackstock had many other talents. He was a street musician who played his accordion. He also learned to speak many languages, including Tagalog which he said he learned so he could speak to the Filipino employees at the Washington Athletic Club where Blackstock washed dishes for 25 years.
Blackstock's art has found its place on the walls of art collectors and museums. The Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland has 20 Blackstocks on display. Portland publishing house Pomegranate licensed his art for calendars, note cards and puzzles.
In 2021, filmmaker Drew Christie created an animated short titled, “The Great World of Gregory Blackstock,” airing nationally on PBS and at several international film festivals.
Blackstock enjoyed the fame, especially when it meant he could travel. But he seemed just as content to sit at a table with a bag of colored pencils and start working on a new chart cataloging whatever interested him.
"Everybody gets bored. Greg never," Frisch said. "He has something at his fingertips to give him enjoyment 24/7. So so many of us walk around saying, 'Boy, there but for the grace of God go I' and yet he's happy, the world is a wonderful place. How many of us can say that?"