When Personal Addiction is a Recovery Strategy
Last Saturday we brought you the stories of personal trainer Greg Maloney and tattoo artist Kris Montoya, two former drug abusers who have made brand new addictions out of their respective trades. Today we’re praising Frank Blazquez, whose kickass portrait photography, mixed-media art, and video documentaries have given him a brand new lease on life. They also happen to be key facets of his personal addiction recovery strategy.
That’s how ace Hyperallergic reporter Samantha Anne Carrillo recently slid into her telling of the New Mexico-based artist’s glorious story. And we’re gonna take her spot-on reporting and run with it. Not just because Blazquez’s work does indeed kick ass (that’s actually our spin on her spin), but because that strategy has earned him a wealth of worthy new highs, including a spot in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Then again, we’ve always dug watching true talents drop the drugs and latch on to more rewarding endeavors.
Portraiture As a Recovery Strategy
If Carillo’s feature is any indication (and it is), Blazquez is as candid about his opiate addiction as he is poetic about his work. Of course one look at the shooter’s shots will tell you he’s all about candor and poetry. No, not Hallmark-style rhymes about honesty, but lyrical testaments to the truth. It’s the kinda candor that comes from courage, and the sorta poetry that flows when your flowers and trees happen to be made of concrete. In other words, the poetry of the streets.
“There’s this feeling when you’re on opiates that’s this warmth — like warm honey that’s pouring down into your spine — that is like the warmth of feeling loved,” he told Carrillo. “When that feeling dissipates, you want to get it back. I feel like my chasing that comfort, that feeling, was what brought me to photography.”
Blazquez may have been seeking warmth, yet he delivered sheer cool. Like jazzcats of yesteryear, he took to his instrument as if it were his birthright. Innately in tune, Blazquez also never let little things like no experience or a short stack hold him back. Some early optometric tech work helped him quickly pick up the tricks of the trade. And he offset his equipment shortage by combining leftover student loans and plasma sales dividends. As for subjects, well, his four years in active opiate addiction had provided more than enough shot-worthy scenes, so he simply went back to where the images were thickest.
“I just started doing street photography [in Albuquerque] along Central Avenue and in the War Zone district,” Blazquez says. “At that time, I didn’t have an audience, so I just wanted to take pictures of stuff I wanted to look at.”
Turns out a whole lotta other folks wanted to look at that stuff too, including folks from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. So when his portrait “The Gallegos Twins, from Belen, NM” (2019) was entered in the Gallery’s 2022 Outwin Competition, it earned him a spot on the shortlist of finalists, as well as a place in the American Portraiture Today exhibition.
Blazquez’s heavily-applauded portrait might not be awash in the tell-tale gray and black prison tattoos and Southwestern symbolism and iconography that dominates much of his portraiture, but it’s still deeply rooted to that singular place and region. How could it be otherwise? It’s a place and a region the Chicago-born Blazquez continually honors with all due reverence.
“Here in New Mexico, I’ve found that it’s a primary identifier for people to say that they’re New Mexican first, before anything else,” quotes Carrillo. “Place is held really heavily in peoples’ hearts.”
Putting That Recovery Strategy to Work
We can’t think of a better recovery strategy example than the one laid down by Frank Blazquez. He recognized his strengths. He gave himself a set of goals. Then he went all in. Because Blazquez had been freed from drugs, he quickly became an unstoppable force. And once an unstoppable force gets moving… Watch out!
Indeed, even that Smithsonian portrait is just one in an ongoing series (Barrios de Nuevo México: Southwest Stories of Vindication). And that series is itself just one of many streams he’s got on flow. There’s also the Made in Tejas portrait series, the Duke City Diaries video documentaries, and his mixed-media series MEXICAN SUBURBS.
Then there are shows, lots and lots of shows. In the last year and a half alone Blazquez has grouped up at MOCA Jacksonville, the Art Museum of South Texas (Corpus Christi), Southwest Contemporary (Santa Fe), the Salina Art Center (Salina, KS), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, AR), and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Secret Gallery and 516 ARTS (Albuquerque). He also soloed (Nothing to Lose) at Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, Colorado. Another three solo shows and almost a dozen groupings went down in the two years prior to all that. Considering Blazquez has only been in the game since 2018, you could say he’s done all that — and then some.
And then some more beyond that, including contributing to The Guardian, where his “I Have Nothing to Lose: Forgotten Survivors of the New Wild West” provides some much-deserved dignity to a side of the American cultural equation that’s generally only factored in through a criminal lens. It’s a stunning feature. Made all the more so by its unmitigated candor. It also served as a rather frank set-piece to Blazquez’s preceding “Escape from New Mexico’s War Zone: My Fight Against Addiction”.
Blazquez’s fans of course wouldn’t have been surprised by the lensman’s candor. Nor would readers of Remezcla, Vice, Artsy, HuffPost or Southwest Contemporary. Each of those publications were struck enough to run candid interviews with Blazquez. Southwest Contemporary was even struck enough to make him their Feb/March 2020 cover story.
Apparently not everyone was happy with the magazine’s decision to run one of Blazquez’s portraits on its cover. In fact, Carillo says “someone smashed his windshield and left issue copies tossed around downtown Albuquerque like litter.”
That didn’t dissuade Blazquez though. Neither did an earlier mugging. If anything, both only further compelled him to follow his instincts. Good that they did too. Because that allowed Blazquez to subsequently receive a $20,000 grant through the Soze Agency.
Healing Properties can’t find enough superlatives to properly praise Frank Blazquez. In addition to his kickass snaps, his wily words and his deeply-drawn docs, his head’s in the right place. No easy feat for an ex-junkie, especially one from another world. Sure Blazquez has his Chicano heritage. And Chicago isn’t exactly the moon. But Albuquerque is a close-knit clique. And being embraced means something. Fortunately, Blazquez’s eye and ear and talent wills out. So does his mindset. Like we said, all that and then some. Which is just what one gets when they provide people with the reverence and respect that they deserve.
We’re double-plus excited to see Blazquez’s work receiving equal reverence and respect. That’s like having the quid pro quo give as good as it gets. The shooter deserves it. And so do his subjects. We’re just blessed to be along for the ride.
Speaking of which, massive gratitude has gotta go to Samantha Anne Carrillo for tipping us to Blazquez and his work. We might not have been blessed by such great reward without that keen, cool feature story. And we’d be criminally bereft if we hadn’t.
Most of all though, we’d like to congratulate Blazquez on his successful sobriety. It’s highly unlikely he’d be succeeding without first getting clean. And he most certainly wouldn’t be making such a successful career out of it. By turning his work into a personal recovery strategy, he’s built himself one helluva life. It’s an enviable gameplan. It’s also one we’d all do well to echo.
How About You?
How about you? Do you have a dream you’re willing to follow? A goal you’re seeking to achieve? A place at the proverbial table picked out? Well? If addiction is in the way, then get it out of the way. It really is that simple. Not easy maybe, but simple. That means doable. Blazquez has proved people can move proverbial mountains. All it takes is guts and focus. Okay, so talent helps. But everyone is talented at something or another. And that includes you. So whaddya say? Ready to call it a day? You won’t be disappointed.
(Image: Artist Mike Giant photographs Blazquez’s solo-exhibition Barrios de Nuevo Mexico, 505 Central Avenue, Albuquerque, NM, 2019, courtesy of Frank Blazquez.)