I imagined John Blancke as a small delicate guy living in barracks, and being careful about fitting in, avoiding arguments. He did his musical tasks, and he must have impressed a few important people, because he’s in a painting. Was he tripped up and mocked all the time, and was always nervous, or was it nothing like that? Race is a hostile idea, it’s a historic weirdness, its purpose is largely economic exploitation. Capitalism began its big present global phase in his lifetime. Where could we go to conquer and colonise, to get their resources and increase or markets? Whose humanity could we crush and rape? Looking at the endlessly dense psychology of perceptions of race, the psychology of Othering, often involves skipping around the basic horrible fact of exploitation. Britain’s history in relation to race is about the worst of any nation ever. At the moment racial difference is used as a rabble rousing concept by right wing and far right political leaders. Again Britain is a terrible offender. What could I possibly imagine about this blank Blancke that has a chance of being anything like his reality? There seems to be virtually nothing known about the subject of my picture, beyond extremely basic notions, and a possible — much simplified and stylised -- likeness in a historic painting. I like the fact that Blancke or Blak is recorded as having two opposite names, it’s obviously a very resonant ambiguity. I also like the solid materialism of the category of the only bit of information about him that’s indisputable: his pay. He received 8 pence a day, he successfully petitioned the King at one point to double it. There’s a record of a payment to him for one month, of 20 shillings. The beautiful Westminster Tournament roll portrait of Blancke/Blak was the visual basis for my painting. I did 5 versions eventually.
269 Matthew Collings