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A Midwesterner by birth and training, Carl Raymond Blair spent the majority of his career in the South where he was known as a dedicated educator, a prolific painter, and later in his life, a sculptor. Although his early works were composed largely in earth tones, he evolved to a varied and colorful palette, navigating his choices by means of the colors’ values despite his color blindness.

Blair was born in Atchison, Kansas, and attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence for three years, before serving with the Army Corps of Engineers, then the Air Force, during the Korean War. He obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the university in 1956. It was there that he learned of his color vision deficiency; in an assignment requiring a self-portrait, he painted his face green. The following year, 1957, he received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design in Kansas City, Missouri. He returned there to teach summer sessions in 1962, and 1964 through 1966. In 1957 he joined the faculty of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where he taught for forty years. During the late 1960s into the early 1980s he conducted classes at the Museum School at the Greenville County Museum of Art.

Beyond his teaching responsibilities Blair was actively involved in the promotion and appreciation of art, both statewide and locally. From the time of his arrival in the state, he was a member of the South Carolina Guild of Artists. In 1970, along with Emery Bopp and Darrell Koons, he co-founded Hampton III Gallery, South Carolina’s oldest art gallery. Over the years it has nurtured the talent and promoted the work of Jeanet Dreskin, William Halsey, Corrie McCallum, Leo Twiggs, Philip Mullen, Philip Morsberger, Edward Rice, and Boyd Saunders, among others. Blair served on the South Carolina Arts Commission for twelve years, two of them as chair. His contributions were duly recognized; in 2005 he was selected by the arts commission for the Lifetime Achievement category of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts. In 2013 Greenville’s Metropolitan Arts Council created the Carl R. Blair Award for commitment to art education, and three years later the council hosted an exhibition of fifty-five artists who had been influenced by him. His theory of art education was: “Generally a good teacher sets the atmosphere, guides and gives advice, but does not control or direct.”

Influenced by his childhood living on a Kansas farm, Blair chose to paint landscapes, but usually not specific locales, rather ones created intuitively from his imagination. Even though in the late 1950s he painted an occasional American scene-like canvas, and once in a while an abstract one, years later he described his work as “neither realistic nor abstract. I refer to my work as visual poetry.” Throughout his oeuvre there are few references to people or the built environment. 

The palette of his early work was dark, with somber earth tones, and the bold blocky forms of many images suggest quarries. In response to a critic’s comment that his paintings were dull, around 1967 Blair lightened his color selection. Another shift came in 1985, as he recalled in an interview ten years later: “[I] made an attempt at doing some brighter things. I think I always thought in earlier days that if one worked with brighter colors that maybe you were a compromiser. So I did start using some brighter colors, which I continue to do.” Late in his career he painted similar colors on the wood surfaces of whimsical sculptures which depict cats, dogs, birds, and other animals in expressive poses. He was philosophical about his color blindness: “Most people feel sorry for me, and think that this poor guy doesn’t see any color. But I see lots of color. I just don’t know what the names are. But in painting it doesn’t make any difference because I am more sensitive to the light and the dark, and the warm and the cool than most people. … unlike most artists who paint the positive spaces, I usually paint the negative. I find this much more exciting and innovative.”