Boston Voyager: Art & Life with Sydney Blum

Published Aug 14 2018

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sydney Blum.

Sydney, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I grew up in a rural college town in central New York State. I drove my parents crazy with wanting to make things but not having the right materials and not being able to get what I wanted in my small town. I had to make do and got inventive with materials. I didn’t consider myself an artist though made things constantly. In fact, I was intimidated by the term “artist” and people who identified themselves as such. Many years later I was in a PhD program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in Ed. Psych. and was bored with my studies so decided to take some of the things I was making over to the fine art department. They admitted me on the spot to their MFA program with no prior art training and so I switched over and was essentially allowed to do my own thing there. I got my MFA in Sculpture. Later, after moving to NYC and facing the realities of earning a living I went to social work school at NYU. I had a psychotherapy practice for thirty years while still making and showing my art work. I also taught sculpture and drawing at Parsons School of Fine Arts in NYC for 16 years. I had my first solo show in NYC in 1980 and began showing with Kim Foster Gallery in 2001. I am presently represented by the Kim Foster Gallery in NYC and Studio 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
At some point I trained myself in self-hypnosis. And one form I learned has you counting down from 10 to 1 deepening the state of relaxation with each number stepped down. And then there is another form. In this you count up and up and up bringing one to an ecstatic state, a sort of euphoria. Perhaps it is this same counting that is the numbered coding on the “other” sides of my Icarus-Colour-Space sculptures. It was there in that place of an escalating euphoria I saw undulating colour, moving ever upward, and strangely, often to the left. In that euphoria I sensed a connection to universal rhythms and vibrations. The undulation, the contraction and expansion of space and colour, are of course basic form and function of all things in nature; the breath, the beating heart, respiration of leaves, growth rings, the beating of wings in flight. And, colour, and it’s vibrational energy, is a language of attraction and desire as well. All things are indefinite, varied, changing. And so, the colour in these sculptures also shifts gradually, minutely, or robustly, and that plays against the momentum and ordering of the grid. On some cellular level I recognized that I had become part of whole, transcending boundaries and duality. I felt myself drifting towards, and merging with a source of flowing uplifting energy, taking me higher and higher.

And, this is why Icarus came to mind. He was fuelled by hubris, seduced by desire and yearning, unaware of the dangers of going in only one direction. Nature knows what Icarus did not, and corrects itself. There is that longing to soar, being tempted as much by the sky as the sea, the rhythms of each being so similar, one literally reflecting the other. These sculptures in the Icarus-Colour-Space series derive from all of this. They describe a fragment of space time and colour space where the imperceptible transitions of colour, contraction and expansion of space destabilize what we know; we are faced with what we don’t know. Each piece is a fragment of a continuum-of-colour and movement, “in medias res”, somewhere “after before and before after”; a moment among moments in all dimensions.

I live in relative isolation near the sea. I moved here specifically to a quiet remote place where I could internalize the rhythms of the tides and sea. I wanted that to be deep within me as I grew older; in essence to return to my beginning. I am interested in dowsing subtle energies, how fluids move, what happens when energy moves through a solid. I study and practice Taoist Tai Chi. I work every day in the studio and when I am working on a piece I work on one row each day. The techniques I developed for this work take on form in a very literal, low tech, and simple way.

How to make the flat fluid? Use the materials I have on hand, simple tools. Cut it up, put it back together with joints that let it move. Support it where it needs it. Adjust the joints and boundaries to allow for more fluidity as I go. Re-support the form. This is a slow work process and it allows me to turn inward as I concentrate. Modified. I work at a pace that quiets unknowns as the arise, allows me to absorb, observe, reflect on the colour vibration that is unfolding. I move slowly through it, defining the form as it grows, interact with colours intimately, and focus only on the fragment of colour before me. Mix only this colour. Mix only this colour. As the sculpture builds it becomes more difficult physically and visually to assess, maneuver, alter. And near the end it is a tense struggle and I am eager for it to be over and see if the whole form and colour movement works. They take about 250 hours to complete. I usually take a brief break before starting another piece to give my hands a break, work out more variations, learn from the last piece. I’m a ruminant. I work in series whether it sculpture or drawings.

Briefly, I want to mention that an engineer friend of mine saw this work and was stunned by its resemblance in physical form to what is described in the Finite Element Method of mathematical analysis that he learned and uses as an engineer. And, from my understanding, the way engineers do this on paper, so to speak, is they set out to create a mathematical equation that describes an entire complex physical form. This is used in determining and assessing the impact of stresses on a complex form such as the weight of a car traveling over a bridge, for instance. The method does this by breaking the form down into smaller and smaller more easily defined and measurable discrete elements. And because each element shares a boundary with another it also shares part of its defining mathematical equation. And so, the equation builds to include more and more small elements with shared boundaries. The result being a compound equation that accurately describes the whole 3D form in all its complexity. I like math, always have, but these types of equations are well beyond me. I found this interesting and exciting, Yet I was working instinctively and from another purpose and intention entirely. Where an engineer might take my completed form and break it down to define it, I was starting with the colored fragment and building the form intuitively from an internal place.

What would you recommend to an artist new to the city, or to art, in terms of meeting and connecting with other artists and creatives?
Yes, art making can be lonely and for me necessarily so. I need the private, uninterrupted time to process ideas and play them out. It is a very personal thing. I feel it is important to consider carefully how to balance what it takes to sustain one’s creative energy with a nurturing exchange of networking and interacting in the art community. I enjoy exchanging ideas with people of many disciplines and get much intellectual and social stimulation from this. The business of being an artist is a very challenging one that can often make demands for time that may not serve one’s ability to create. It’s a tough balance. I am really enjoying Instagram as I feel it offers me the stimulation of constant exposure to visual imagery and art process in a private setting.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work can be seen at the Kim Foster Gallery (https://kimfostergallery.com/sydney-blum/) in NYC and at Studio 21 Gallery (https://studio21.ca/artists/sydney-blum/) in Halifax Nova Scotia. My art process and progress are carefully documented on my Instagram account: sydneyblum.art

I have had 16 solo shows in New York City since 1980, with my next scheduled for spring on 2019. I have been included in many groups shows primarily in NYC. My work has been reviewed in Th New York Times, Art in America, Art Forum, Art News, Sculpture Magazine, Arts Magazine, The Village Voice, and many other hardcopy, online publications, and local media. I have been the recipient of numerous artist grants.



Studio 21