There was a time when Chuck E. Bloom hid his surrealist pictures. In the 1990s, while in graduate school at Kent State, his public pieces were huge abstracts, monochromatic textural pieces lumpy with plaster and expanding foam. He showed his surrealistic drawings to a couple of professors, "but they said that the surrealism period was kind of done," Bloom said. So he kept that part of his work private.
No more. Now Bloom is well known for his exacting pictures of surrealistic buildings, often sporting wings, crab claws, and remnants of mankind. His paintings highlight his strong feelings for the environment and his love of trees. Many of his paintings are miniatures; not because he loves miniatures, but because his work is so detailed that large pieces take months to complete, which would make it impossible to keep up with demand from his collectors.
Bloom grew up in Ohio farm country. His town of Bloomdale was named for his ancestors. Bloom's mother loved painting. His father was an avid gardener who grew furious if someone cut down a tree. Bloom inherited both passions. His mother, Dianne Bloom, came from a family of fifteen siblings who lived in a two bedroom house. She won a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design with her rendition of Tippy the turtle from a magazine ad. But her mother refused to allow Dianne to attend art school, saying it would not be fair to all her siblings who could not afford to continue their schooling. She burned Dianne's sketchbooks.
So Dianne Bloom taught herself to paint. "Mom painted murals on every wall, on every panel of every door," Bloom said. "Last summer she painted the front of the public library."
Dianne was 100 percent behind her son's wish to be an artist. "I think she lived her life vicariously through me," he said. "She always encouraged me, never for an instant showed a doubt that I could make a living as an artist. She bought me art supplies."
Bloom's teachers also recognized his talent. He's still in touch with Denny Severin, his high school art teacher. Severin took a group of kids on what for Bloom was a life-changing trip to Chicago. "We went to every museum and art show for a week," Bloom said. "It was the best trip I had in my life."
While Bloom enjoyed his undergrad schooling, his graduate experience put him off art for a while. The other students were all much older than Bloom, and disparaged his work. "The mentality was I needed to go experience life," he said, "and the idea of having to suffer for your art." After laughing at one of his paintings, they pulled him aside and, "gave their testimonials of suffering, being jailed or maimed," he recalled.
Bloom stopped painting and got a job at the May Company. A few years later, while working as frame shop manager for Michael's craft store, his interest revived. He was amazed by the things people framed. The weirdest was a memorial to someone's late pet: some dog hair, a dog biscuit and a bow arranged in a shadow box. "It's probably rotting now," he mused. "I told her it was going to decay." But the shadow boxes caught on. Everybody wanted Bloom to display their treasures in a shadow box, and he started making some of his own as well. Soon he was buying art supplies again, at a great discount.
Surrealism began to creep into his work during his next job, a gig at Borders where he ran the art book section. "I started coming across surrealism a little bit more," he said, "the more obscure ones that I thought were the most brilliant painters I ever saw in my life." Bloom was especially inspired by Yves Tanguy, who is still his favorite artist.
Bloom and his longtime partner, Patrick M. Dacey, got the opportunity to transfer to the Maui Borders. Paradise spawned Bloom's first surrealist paintings, and his first sales. He met other like-minded painters at an artists' collective called Wild Banana, located in the showroom of an old auto dealership. "I was surprised at how much surrealistic type work came out in Maui," he said.
A few years in Hawaii were enough. Bloom was ready for Portland. "I always wanted to come here," he said, "and I knew that this was a place where you could resuscitate your art career and live as an artist." He started selling his work on the street in the Pearl even before Urban Art Network formed. He managed to evade fines from the city for selling without a permit, but had numerous warnings. When the UAN started the street gallery, he was there from day one.
Some of his friends believe that he can't be recognized as a serious artist if he sells his art in the street. But Bloom likes to interact directly with his collectors. He spends 90 percent of his time in the street talking. "It's very important to a lot of people when they have a piece of art, they want something that's personal, that has a story with it," he said. "I think people like that, particularly in Portland. Portland has always been a personal town." It also feels historically authentic to him, because the early surrealists showed their work at a park in Paris. Bloom has a picture of Salvador Dali's clock painting wired to a tree branch. "Now it's in a museum and is untouchable," he said. "But it was street art at one point."
The UAN community is important to Bloom. "We're all really good friends," he said. "We try to support each other. It feels very pure, not snobby."
Bloom craves the community of a big surrealist collective. This scene is now making a resurgence, he said. He was recently invited to share his work at an international exhibition being held in Portugal. His pieces on their website are drawing attention and emails from all over the world. Bloom said he feels like he has found a lost family.
—by Teresa Bergen
Visit Chuck's Profile Page where you can view more images of his work and read his Artist's Statement.