A Surrealist Point of View with Chuck E. Bloom
Chuck Bloom, Listen for a Moment
Teia Hassey: Thank you for taking the time to interview with me. Can you first tell me a little about yourself? (where you were raised, what schooling you have had )
Chuck Bloom: Thank you, I am very happy to do this interview. I grew up in the small farm town of Bloomdale in what used to be called the Black Swamp, before it was drained to create farmland in northwest Ohio. I received a scholarship to Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio where I received B.A. degrees in both psychology and painting (with honors in painting). My art education at Mount Union was very traditional and rigorous. From there I went onto the MFA program at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio continuing my concentration in painting and adding art history to the mix.
TH: What three artists inspire you the most in developing your career as an artist?
Chuck Bloom: During school I was inspired by the Abstract Expressionists, such as Rothko and Pollock. My art from this time period reflects that as large abstract fields of color, very different from the work I do now, though even my private notebooks from this time period are full of surreal imagery. For the past fifteen years I have been most influenced by the works of Yves Tanguy, Remidios Varo, and Leonora Carrington. Those are my strongest Surrealist muses.
TH: Do you see expressions of surrealism in the Portland arts scene? Is it growing and becoming more accepted?
Chuck Bloom: As the concept of Surrealism is one of the few art movements to enter the popular vernacular I, of course, see expressions of Surrealism in the Portland art scene. The most prevalent style can be called Pop Surrealism and is found in many aspects of popular culture. This is very different from traditional Surrealism as originally defined by Andre Breton and Max Ernst, but recognizable as the more commercially viable and palatable Surrealism of Salvidor Dali. As such it is certainly becoming more accepted. I think Surrealism, especially a more “old school” type, is as difficult to relate to for many people as it is intriguing, but for the right type of person, that is the allure. Surrealism seems to always ask more questions than it answers and it forces the viewer to abandon their closed rationalism and force them into the position of thinking about what they are experiencing and draw conclusions upon that experience. Most people want art that is easier to digest than I or many other Surrealists produce.
Chuck Bloom, A Desolate Rejoinder
TH: What is your view on the surrealist collectives? How are they making a difference for artists?
Chuck Bloom: Collectives serve an important function in any art movement, but they can be just as problematic, particularly when a movement becomes so large that aspects of, or even the entire definition becomes institutionalized. This can be seen in the splintering of the “Surrealist Collective” into fractured groups that spar, such as Keith Widgor’s online collective and the more politically oriented group founded by Franklin Rosemont. Even in Paris and London recognized collectives have also spawned breakaway factions based on political ideology. For Surrealists, I believe it is of paramount importance that artists come together in the pursuit of art without a preset agenda. We cannot divorce what we create from our world view and it will come through in the end no matter what. What is important is the free flow of creative energy that emerges through bringing a group of visionary people together. At its heart that was the goal and result of such exercises as the exquisite corpse. This is not something that can necessarily be reproduced online. There is a place for these collectives online and elsewhere, but perhaps not in the more staid definition of Andre Breton’s collective. Surrealism is very much about paradigmatic evolution, but in that adaptation the core DNA of the concept cannot be lost.
TH: Your art seems to focus on treetops, rooftops, windows and doorways. What is the symbolism behind these recurring images?
Chuck Bloom: At the nexus of my work is a concern and philosophy about the environment and man’s place in it. Very simply I love trees and feel a great kinship with them and as a result they are my representation of the natural primeval Earth. The current capitalist paradigm is one of extinction. The human race is using up and poisoning Earth with overpopulation and over-development. The structures and rooftops represent two things: first, the history that is lost when we neglect to learn from our past and secondly, that there is vast splendor to be found in the common things. There are things that we overlook and pass by a hundred times a day with minds focused on what we think we know. Doorways and windows are passages from the outside to the inside, from one place to another, that is their definition and I use them no differently. They can be bricked or boarded up, open to darkness, a stormy horizon, an idyllic interlude or even be a source of water for things in one world from another. Depending on how they are depicted they can represent the hope of another unspoiled world or the reminder of what is left behind or avoided. They are opportunity or the lack of opportunity.
I am haunted by much of what I see about me. A farmhouse, abandoned to the elements, is a testimonial of failure for man, but the reclamation of that structure as it is consumed by flowering brambles, and as the wood siding is bleached to grey by the elements, it is a triumph of nature saying that it will not be forever repressed and bent to our will. The broken windows of that farmhouse, shaded by an oak tree–with the rope remains of a swing still hanging in the air–have opened the closed idea of what a human habitat is to a new world of balance with what was outside. Opening the windows of minds, tearing open the locked doors of our rationalism creates endless possibilities for the future of humanity.
Chuck Bloom, Appreciated From a Distance
TH: I love the hexagonal piece “Appreciated From a Distance”. It reminds me of escaping into the woods overlooking a deep crevasse down below when I was a child. What was your inspiration for this piece?
Chuck Bloom: This piece was done specifically for a “Family” themed show at the Launch Pad Gallery in Portland. How “family” was interpreted was left up to the participating artists. I took a personal, as well as a global definition of that word and explored how I relate to my immediate family (blood related and otherwise) and to the family of humanity. Representing me at the center is a tree almost completely disconnected from the world around it. In relation to my family, this is because I am so different from anyone else I am related to and I don’t feel that I can connect on a truly meaningful level with them. This also holds true for my relationship with human society. I am at a loss to understand what is important and pertinent to the vast majority of people on this planet, frequently making me feel like a bit of an alien. TV, fashion and the latest pop song have no meaning to me, no matter how hard society tries to garner my interest. That creates a great distance between me and the landscape of most human experience. But I am not entirely divested of my relationship with things, a narrow umbilicus to the Earth is a source of nourishment and comfort. This is to the ancient world of dark forests and open grasslands seething with an unfettered lifeforce.
TH: Your art has been all over the States, from Oregon to Ohio and now New York. Do you have a vision of showing your art elsewhere? And where might that be?
Chuck Bloom: Before moving to Oregon in 2002, I lived in Maui for 6 years where what is recognized as my Surrealist style first came to fruition. I was very active in the art movement there and participated as a teacher and artist, as well as showing with The Wild Banana Gallery (later The Wild Banana Collective). I am a prolific painter and I have several shows a year in the northwest with recent forays to New York. My plan is to gravitate away from my smaller (miniature, 3” x 5” and smaller) work and concentrate on larger works so that I can pursue more prominent venues. I will be in another show in New York this summer and I have been investigating venues in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans and Santa Fe.
Chuck Bloom, Relay for Life
TH: I am so amazed with all the fine detail in your work. What is the average time you spend creating a piece?
Chuck Bloom: This is one of the most asked questions I receive; I’ve never actually kept track of how much time I spend on a painting as I am usually working on several at one time. Sometimes I am working on as many as twenty, but I usually have around eight to ten paintings under development at any given time. I do know that the painting you mentioned earlier, “Appreciated From A Distance,” took three months to finish, but I was working on other pieces as well. The detail is what really slows me down, but I enjoy losing myself in the minutiae and it is also a significant factor as to why my work is collected.
TH: Do you sketch your paintings first or do you just have a vision for each painting when you paint?
Chuck Bloom: I sketch constantly, but not necessarily with the intent of creating a painting from the sketch. I always have a sketchbook nearby because I am constantly surprised by new ideas and extraordinary visions out of the blue. Sometimes it comes all at once and so fast that I cannot get it all down on paper. Most of the time the “visions” are not complete–just bits and pieces of things like symbols.
The paintings themselves are very organic in nature. They all stem from my established visual vocabulary, but evolve in ways that are not premeditated or even foreseeable. Paintings for me must create a specific mood and strike a balance of not only compositional elements, but of visual metaphor as well. There is a duality in the existence of all things and the essence of this duality must exist in my work in order for the worlds that I create to be viable.
Chuck Bloom, Memory of thnings Meant to Last, from Wanderers
TH: What inspired you to do your collection “Wanderers”?
Chuck Bloom: “Wanderers” is a fairly recent endevour of mine that have, initially unbeknownst to me, their roots in my childhood. I was looking for a looser, more abstract expression of my Surrealist world and I went back to my schooling in Abstract Expressionism to create another interpretation of my work, using a mixture of dry and wet media. When I showed the new work to my mother she produced drawings I did as a child (about six or seven years old) of the same type of stilted structures. She explained that I said I saw these things in distance across the farmer’s fields that surround our house. So I guess I have always been a Surrealist, even as a small child. They are now a part of my lexicon of Surrealist symbols and can be seen in different forms in many paintings. I enjoy working on them as a break from the structured detail of most of my paintings and drawings and they allow me to get down and dirty with my mediums.
TH: I see that your art is available through the Portland Art Museum’s Rental/Sales Gallery. Can you say a couple words about this?
Chuck Bloom: The Portland Art Museum’s Rental/Sales Gallery started fifty years ago as a place to showcase and make art accessible to everyone to enjoy in their own home. It also offers an alternative venue for artists, because it is not limited by the prejudices of a commercial gallery. They have two call-to-artists a year and anybody can submit their work for inclusion in the gallery. They take a nominal commission and present several receptions a year giving some artists exposure that they would not otherwise receive. I was fortunate enough to be included in their recently published book chronicling the gallery’s fifty year history. My work is a little outside of their typical oeuvre, but the director, Jennifer Zitka, has been a champion of my work.
TH: Thank you so much for your time and leaving us in amazement with your work.
Teia Hassey trained horses all her life up to Dressage and Jumping levels. Now she is diving back into her passion of writing. Teia is working on her first memoir and writing for the arts in Chicago, IL. During her time she maintains a blog “Just Breathe” about coping with Fibromyalgia and Vertigo.