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Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023

Joe Bluhm Has His Head in the Clouds


Artist Joe Bluhm’s exhibition, “Cumulus,” is on display at artspace.

Bluhm and Dominique McLemore on exhibit at artspace

Joe Bluhm has worked on Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning animation productions and illustrated a New York Times bestselling picture book. With his company named Sweet Cloud Studios and an artspace exhibition entitled “Cumulus,” Bluhm seems to have his head in the clouds.

In reality, his feet are planted firmly on the ground in Northwest Louisiana with his wife, Mary, and two young children. Bluhm worked in animation and advertising in New York City until an encounter with his now-buddy Academy Award-winning filmmaker, writer and illustrator William Joyce. Their meeting led him to Shreveport and a years-long collaborative friendship to include the creation of the Academy Award 2012 Best Animated Short Film, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

As Covid-19 swept the nation, Bluhm put on his fine art hat and created a colorful caricature of a friend named Bernd and was named Best of Show Visual Artist for Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s annual open invitational exhibition and critic series, “Critical Mass 8.” Bluhm will exhibit his Critical Mass solo show, “Cumulus,” an accumulation of his favorite work of the last several years, at artspace in downtown Shreveport through Oct. 21. If you ask Joe Bluhm today, he might just tell you he is on Cloud 9.

Bluhm says he was motivated to enter SRAC’s regional competition because of the spirit of the Critical Mass event – the energy, the people and how SRAC encourages artists of all levels and incorporates professional critique to help grow them in their work.

“I appreciate that there is a yearly event where all local artists may display their work at artspace, as a community. For the painting ‘Bernd,’ I was interested to see the objective reception in that environment, without the context by which it was created (at the International Society of Caricature Artists [ISCA] conference). It was a chance to see how a portrait ‘from the heart’ was objectively perceived and reviewed, among all types of art,” said Bluhm.

Bernd is a caricature of an Austrian friend Bluhm met and played a round of golf with at an ISCA conference. “To the group, he is loud and goofy and always wears orange. But one-on-one, he is so much deeper. We shared stories about our kids – his teenagers and my toddler – and he gave me advice while sharing a side which others don’t often see. It was that not-so-familiar Bernd whom I painted,” explained Bluhm.

Professional critic Shantay Robinson described the art “Bernd” as “engaging” and said, “The details hold your attention and summon you to interact intimately. It isn’t certain whether the subject depicted in this portrait of the back of the head is a woman or man, creating an appealing ambiguity. The atmosphere of the sky, changing leaves and trees blowing in the wind that surrounds the subject allows us to get a good sense of the outlook they are experiencing. We can see, along with them, the miraculous object of their contemplation – a beautiful autumn sky at dusk.

The scene itself is enchanting and we can imagine that the subject is just as entranced by the scene as viewers are with this painting.”

“I can’t believe Robinson saw exactly what I intended,” said Bluhm. “That so rarely happens. Emotion was the intention for ‘Bernd,’ and she got that.”

As most of us are, Bluhm is moving beyond life during Covid-19. He is currently working on a children’s picture book for TUNDRA, a division of Penguin-Random House, written by Linda Bailey, titled “The Great Dinosaur Sleepover.” He is also art directing a feature film, yet to be announced, all while writing and designing an animated feature film with his best friend, Nathan Graham. He is also writing several children’s books, one of which, too, is with Graham.

Bluhm is also preparing his Critical Mass solo exhibition, “Cumulus.” He talks about it in this way: “As you know, life takes turns and offers unexpected blessings. Over the last several years, I had to adapt and work to feed my family and chisel a path towards my big goals. This show will be a reflection of what a working artist and storyteller in the entertainment industry (who cares about fine art) can do in Louisiana. The market is worldwide, and the dream and vision of a creator is well and thriving.”

While Bluhm’s Critical Mass solo exhibition will fill downstairs artspace gallery, Aug. 11 - Oct. 21, Northwest Louisiana artist Dominique McLemore’s powerfully expressive works will be featured upstairs in an exhibition entitled, “HUEMANEiTY.” McLemore is SRAC’s newest Kallenberg Artist Tower (KAT) artist in residence.

McLemore describes himself as an impact artist who likes to start conversations with his art. His work often utilizes social commentary, such as his piece with an angry-faced male holding out flowers instead of pointing a gun.

“I create art to evoke emotion,” says McLemore. “All of my work has to do with emotion and with societal, political and sometimes taboo topics. Through my art, I want people to know that they do not have to live life as they are told to live it or are supposed to live it – not to be comfortable or complacent – but to make life your own journey. I believe life is about your human experience, and I create art that I hope affirms that.”

Bouquets are often included in McLemore’s art as gestures of peace and kindness taking the place of violence. He writes his own poetry and combines that with his visual images. A few of McLemore’s pieces pay homage to the style of rapper JayZ and ’80s neoexpressionist artist Jean Michele Basquiat, whom he admires. “HUEMANEiTY” will be a collection of 30 captivating, colorful works, including 12 evocative portraits of friends and a self-portrait.

Joe Bluhm and Dominique McLemore exhibit at artspace in downtown Shreveport through Oct. 21. To find out more, visit, www.arttspaceshreveport.com.


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