Gregory Blackstock Garde Rail Gallery, 4860 Rainier Ave S 721-0107

Through March 27.

It's all well and fine and compassionate to pretend that we're not interested in Gregory Blackstock's art because he happens to be autistic, but the fact is that his condition gives the work the ring of urgency.

Blackstock makes visual lists: drawings in graphite and crayon and Sharpie of mostly crammed-full groups of things--of ants, of balls, of bells, of noisemakers, of hammers, of pianos. Each drawing is a sort of vertical scroll, with the images neatly laid in rows (the artist apparently needs no straightedge) and labeled, drawn in a style that borrows from both the condensed emotion of the comic and the precision of the diagram. The Ants could very nearly be used as an identification guide, with the different segmented bodies, head shapes, and tail sizes all clearly drawn, as well as a surprising guide to the ant world's unexpected specifics: I didn't know about the "odorous house ant" or the "crazy ant," and now I'm glad I do. The Saws appears in two versions, one with the saw handles in bright colors, both versions with saw teeth--on circular saws and handsaws and miter saws and others--precisely shaped and spaced, each saw different, each with its quite specific purpose (the ice carver's saw, the butcher's saw, the wallboard saw), some with purposes you can't imagine.

Blackstock's method gives a taxonomical calmness to some unruly and unsettling subjects, not just to noisy bells and birds, but to more charged categories, such as prisons, paddy wagons, and World War II bombers. But even the sweeter subjects radiate a kind of anxiety; the sheepshanks, the shoes, the flowers are all pressing in their muchness, in the implied infinite overwhelming variety of things. Social scientist Barry Schwartz's current theory, about how we're more dismayed and constrained by a multitude of choices than we are liberated by them, finds uneasy embodiment in Blackstock's drawings, which, although organized as all get-out, have a slightly fretful air, emphasized by how worked some of the drawings are--with patches of new drawings glued over old ones, images erased and redrawn, extra lengths of paper attached here and there to accommodate more images.

Whatever the specifics of Blackstock's condition, his drawings seem to be a method of exerting some control over it. My narrow understanding of autism is pretty much all gathered from Oliver Sacks' books; there often seems to be a gap between seeing and interpreting what's in front of you, a tendency to be sidetracked by irrelevant details. Making lists of things to keep from being overwhelmed or distracted by them seems like an excellent way to cope with an external world that you can't filter or fully interpret; of course it's akin to a lot of everyday behavior, such as making lists of things that need doing so one can stop thinking about having to remember them. There is a ritualistic power in drawing something that you're afraid of; in drawing something, as in naming it, you come to own it.

But Blackstock is no automaton; a fine sense of humor and a generous (rather than a relentlessly severe) sense of categories relieves some of the anxiety of the drawings. (I have made myself nuts trying to categorize things that seem to fit no categories, especially when cleaning house.) The Bells includes a diving bell, which is actually a kind of helmet; The Balls, in among sports balls and Christmas ornaments, includes a ceiling-light ball; The Shoes, in among the ordinary t-straps, clogs, and espadrilles, includes the "James Bond Movie Villain's Make-Up Deadly Switchblade Shoe--From Russia with Love." My particular favorite is The Irish Joys, which is less taxonomic than nostalgic, with dogs wearing Irish derbies, and cups, shirts, and bowties emblazoned with shamrocks.

Most people who make art or music, or who write or even read, are interested in their relationship with their own mind--its propensity to make bad decisions and conceptual leaps, the sheer amount of power it wields. Much of the best current art is epistemological at least to a degree, a form of thought made (interestingly, one hopes) visible. And Blackstock knows the world differently from most of us; if you are too correct to admit this, you miss the way his work compels, presses, argues, soars.