Atlanta artist Lillian Blades’s three-dimensional “quilts” tell the story of her life

Her works are deeply inspired by African, Caribbean, and Black American quilting traditions

Lillian Blades
Artist Lillian Blades at September Gray Fine Art Gallery

Photograph by Ron Witherspoon

Lillian Blades’s colorful creations have a way of making you feel like you’re under the sea, rolling in the grass, and viewing a desert sunset all at once. Her abstract, multicanvas, multimedia creations are the focal point of any room they’re in, awash with bright colors and an assortment of picture frames, jewelry, mirrors, and other objects she finds at thrift stores. For the Bahamian artist and SCAD Savannah graduate, who has called Atlanta home since arriving to attend graduate school at Georgia State in 1996, art is a way of connecting to her late parents.

She says she uses PVC pipes in her work as an ode to her father, who was a plumber, and hundreds of colorful buttons, which she calls the “cells” of her work, as an homage to her seamstress mother.

Growing up in the Bahamas, Blades, who was raised by her aunt, found an affinity for art because it was an easy conversation starter for her as a shy child. Her works are also deeply inspired by African, Caribbean, and Black American quilting traditions. Indeed, her works are much like three-dimensional quilts drenched in blue, pink, yellow, green, and red paints that evoke the Bahamian islands.

“I find the asymmetry and that ‘make-do’ quality of quilting very intriguing,” Blades said. “My grammy always said ‘make do, make it work,’ and it always turns out beautifully.”

Lillian Blades
Blades at work in her Westview studio on an untitled piece commissioned by Publix GreenWise Market

Photograph by Marie Thomas

Blades’s works have been displayed in galleries in the Bahamas, Germany, Trinidad, and the U.S. She has also designed installations for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, East Atlanta Library, and the Publix GreenWise Market in Marietta. Her next solo exhibition will be at Clark Atlanta University.

“Whether it’s fabric, images from magazines, or textures from different materials that I don’t want to discard the memories of . . . I pull everything together in a way that makes sense based on the elements and principles of design.”

This article appears in our Summer 2020 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.