Step inside ‘The World of Wobbley’

Artist Timothy Blackwell brings his ‘brain children’ to life with his first public exhibition, which opens at Blockfort on Saturday, April 6.
Color Gang
Color GangTim Blackwell

Growing up autistic, Timothy Blackwell always felt most at peace with a notebook and a pen, disappearing into a world of fantastical, imagined characters that he said helped to lower his anxiety and set his mind at ease. 

“It feels like my brain is spilling an idea out on the page,” Blackwell said in an early April interview at Blockfort, which will host the artist’s debut exhibition, “The World of Wobbley,” beginning on Saturday, April 6. “The idea is in my head, and it walks around just like an ordinary character. And when I write it down, it pops out. And all those ideas, they’re my brain children.”

Blackwell’s mother, Rebecca, said that her son grew up filling countless notebooks and sketch pads with hundreds of these “brain children,” a number of which are on display at Blockfort. These include colorful creations crafted in Paint 3D, along with a wall of hand drawn pages featuring inanimate objects turned superheroes and villains.

The artist’s imagination and wit are evident throughout the space, his humor shining through in characters such as “Rebocca,” an athletic shoe sprung to life whose powers include manipulating a target’s footwear and “forcing people to run endlessly.” Then there’s the villainous sewing machine, Madame Sew-R-Sew, who wields a needle sword as a weapon and can entangle her opponents in thread. (Blackwell includes stories and/or background details for all of his characters.)

The seed for “World of Wobbley,” which coincides with Autism Awareness Month, was planted nearly five years ago, when Blackwell spent a day volunteering at the Awesome Company, a screen printing business that employs autistic adults. When Blackwell arrived for his volunteer shift, he did so with his notebook in hand, his drawings catching the attention of Awesome Company founder Jacquie Mahan, who previously operated Mahan Gallery in the Short North. 

“And I said, ‘Tim, these drawings are amazing, you should do something with them,’” Mahan said. “And he left, and I didn’t even know his last name, and life went on.”

In March 2023, though, Mahan put out a public call in the hopes of connecting with more autistic artists, and in particular Tim, which eventually led to a message from Blackwell. “I was in California when I got the email from Tim. And he sent me pictures of his inanimate objects with faces, and I almost caused a car crash,” Mahan said. “It was like, ‘Oh, my God. You found me.’”

Blackwell's parents, Rebecca and Robert, had long considered Tim's art more of a hobby – an idea they were forced to reconsider once people outside of the family began to make inquires. “When other people were telling us it was something more, we had to go back and look at it,” Rebecca said, an admission that reminded me of the way Henry Hess’ parents began to reevaluate his creative output once the artists in the Franklinton community called attention to it. 

“Walter Herrmann, I’ll never forget, he came running up behind us and was like, ‘I need to meet your kid,’” Amy Hess said in October, Hermann’s introduction motivated by a model of a boat Henry had constructed out of paper. “And he goes, ‘Your kid’s a sculptor and I’m going to tell you why.’ And he sat down and gave us a full tutorial on how Henry sees things, and how unique it is that he can build things like that.”

In a similar way, “World of Wobbley” captures the singular way that Blackwell absorbs his surroundings, with his cast of characters emerging from sources of frustration (there’s an upset stomach monster, and another inspired by tree pollen), things he loves (the pizza monster), and the various TV shows and movies that have sparked his imagination, and to which Blackwell consistently gives his own spin. After watching “Wall-E,” for instance, the artist created a drawing that included a pair of robotic canines: Dog-E and Pup-E. 

“Being autistic has its perks and disadvantages,” Blackwell said. “For starters, it makes you more unique and intelligent. But it also makes you... a bit more sensitive.”

This sensitivity can cause challenges – for the opening, the plan is to create a quiet space to which Blackwell can retreat if the crowds begin to overwhelm – but it also makes the artist more perceptive and has helped to foster a rooting interest in those people and things that tend to get overlooked. In the Pixar film “Finding Nemo,” for instance, Blackwell's favorite character is the blowfish, Bloat. 

Owing to this trait, the exhibit is filled with dozens of objects people might confront every day and never give a second thought – air conditioners, condiment bottles, hamburgers – each anthropomorphized and animated with awesome powers.

Indeed, for Blackwell, nearly everything he takes in can be a source of wonder and excitement, including his first public art exhibition, which he said upon meeting left him “twirling with excitement,” spreading his arms and turning a quick rotation in the center of the gallery to hammer home his point. 

Standing in a room surrounded by dozens of his “brain children,” I asked Blackwell toward the end of our interview if stepping into the gallery could give visitors the experience of being inside of his head.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s kind of like being in my imag-in-attttttion!”

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