Art view Paulette Thenhaus
Harlow Blum: 40 + 10
This retrospective of 112 artworks by Harlow Blum reflects his intense investigations and distant travels in the Orient. It also marks his long career as professor of art at Monmouth College where his exhibit is up and running till January 30th, 2009.
The title of the show "40 + 10" refers to Blum's forty years of teaching plus ten years as Professor of Art Emeritus. Printmaking was his teaching specialty. Early work from the 1960's document his own woodcuts, lino-cuts and tonal etchings.
A formative sabbatical took him to Tokyo and Kyoto in Japan from 1967-68. The textures, colors and structures he experienced there became part of his art vocabulary for the rest of his art career. Over the years he has made additional trips to India, Indonesia and beyond.
Probably half of the work on display reflects Asian design principles and philosophy. "Tea House Window Series #15, 2000” is a large assemblage (collage) utilizing driftwood over Indian paper with bamboo and twig over Korean Odol paper. The twigs fill the center of the circle that form the teahouse window.
Blum draws from Japanese art, life and culture. There are a Zen landscape garden (Ryoan-ji Series) – Blum created a life-size rock garden in Hawaii in 1979. Also, the tea ceremony (Tea House Series), the Noh Drama (Noh Series), the Tale of Genji (Genji Series) and the Tsukiji Fish Market of Tokyo (Fish Market Series).
Blum's sensitivity to textures is his great gift. "Ryoan-jo Variation," 13" x 11", 1993, is composed of rusted metal, cork, burlap, plant materials, sand and bird gravel. How tactile can an artist get in such a small space? His simple linear pattern enhances the 2-D surface treatment.
Ghost images of rust and actual inserted pieces of rust are trademarks of the artist that go back to his college days. "Impact Zone," 1999, looks like a rusting moon crater. The medium label reads, "Lightning zapped earth particles with mixed media." There's got to be a story to this one.
Exotic handmade papers are also a trademark of Blum's body of work. Often he allows the color, weight or texture of the paper to guide his design. In "Taizo-in-Rock Garden" the rippled watercolor paper mimics raked pebbles with no further effort.
It is safe to say that up until very recently, Blum has been working rather flat. Organic, often found materials, are manipulated into symbolic shapes of square, circle, rectangle. But with the coming of a new decade in a new century Blum has discovered a new medium and a new message. The medium is no longer organic but rather free-form industrial... expandable foam.
Like his other found textures, it too was discovered and retrieved but this time from discarded theater props. We are not talking about salvaging small pieces either, but rather a full truck load. The gallery installation of ''Three Piece Iceberg Installation" measures 8' x 10' x 3' . The massive icebergs are bulging iridescent forms. Though the message is one of global warming and melting seas, the slick, white "ice" has a tactile smooth beauty to it.
There's much to view up-close in this fifty year retrospective by the Professor of Art Emeritus. It looks like he's beginning yet another chapter in his long creative life. Take the time to digest the 112 artworks created by this singular artist/ teacher who is still discovering the feel of things.
The exhibit at the Len G. Everett Gallery, 2nd floor of Hewes Library at Monmouth College, runs through January 30, 2009. A reception and gallery talk will take place Friday, January 16, 2009 from 2 - 4 pm.