For those who might not know you, who are you and what do you do?
I've been working at my studio in Canmore since the early 1970s, starting off in clay with an early shift away from pottery into a more abstract exploration.
Over time, the transition into metal was a natural progression as the concepts I was working with were constantly bumping up against clay's imperative. Bronze casting, and later fabricating out of flat or formed steel, aluminum, and copper, became my vehicle of choice.
The themes I have focussed on involve the audible, the kinetic, the tactile, and the engagement of mental and physical play. This can take the form of game boards, musical instruments, or cauldrons with or without cradles, or cradles with or without cauldrons.
The sculpture I create ranges from intricate pieces you can hold in your hands to work up to 100 feet height.
Where in Alberta do you call home?
I've lived in Canmore since 1970 when I was passing through and decided to stay for a couple of weeks.
It was a coal mining town then, rough around the edges, but the mountains grabbed me. I didn't choose to live here, it chose me. The town has transformed over the years with strong, overlapping communities evincing a sense of identity, awareness, and a commitment to place.
Prior to coming to Canmore I had lived in Washington D.C., Paris, and Tokyo, where I was born -- all fabulous places; no wonder I like it here.
How’d you get started as an artist?
I started off in art by rejecting physics, my chosen profession. After a couple of years working in that field I could sense that it wouldn't offer as much challenge and fulfillment as art, so I followed my instincts to the right hemisphere.
Looking back on my earlier years, I see there was always a drive in me to create meaning; along with that was the need to create the objects or notation that portray and convey that meaning.
Fast forward to 1970: I was studying musical composition at The Banff School of Fine Arts (as the Banff Centre was then known ) when I decided to make a flute for my brother, an eclectic musician. Thinking that clay would be an interesting material to use, I signed up for the clay class being offered at the school and taught by Peter Fuhrmann.
I soon discovered that flutes were not straightforward to make -- especially out of clay. Over the months as I was figuring out how to do it I grew to love the material and processes and rhythms of the studio.
I didn't know I was "getting started as an artist" until probably ten years into it; it took me that long to consider what I had as a career, a studio, a business, and my life's work.
What are you currently working on?
Current projects underway include a piece of public art for the town of Canmore, and a set of sculptural gates (54 feet across) for the City of Lethbridge.
I'm also working on an exhibition of a dozen or so mid-size sculptural pieces ranging up to 10 feet dimension, fabricated out of aluminum, that have the capacity or implication of motion.
There is always some research phase of my work percolating in the studio. At the moment it seems to be in the form of constructed drawings out of (i.e. not on) steel and/or aluminum.
At this point in the creative process I never really know what is "work" and what is "play".
What stands out for you as one of your favourite career highlights so far?
I've been fortunate in my opportunities and my influences; because of them I've managed to support myself solely from my studio practice over the decades without having to wait on tables, teach, give workshops, drive cab, or work in the coal mines. (All worthy professions but would have been a distraction for me.)
There are lots of favourite, profound, and significant highlights; one of the earliest was a funny and lucky one that came in the spring of 1971 when Santo Mignosa, who arrived to teach a two week course in the ceramics studio, showed me a letter from Don Becker, the Banff Centre's chief administrator, saying that I was a "knowledgeable studio manager and a valuable resource to be utilized". Fantastic! At the time I had been working in clay less than 6 months and thought I was going to be thrown off the premises for unauthorized use of the studio. Instead they made me the studio manager. I saved that letter for years.
In the mid 80s there was a strong exchange between the clay work I was doing and the bronze work I was starting on, in which each was informing the other. Clay didn't really like being given hard, crisp edges and couldn't cantilever the way I wanted it to so I began working with bronze. As that was happening I became enamoured of the surface treatments I was developing in bronze and figured out how to transpose them into the clay and glaze arena. Each discipline fed off the other, finally leading me into the singular realm where I continue working today.
The first time I accidently dropped a sculpture after shifting over from clay to experiment with bronze was another of those favourite moments. The piece didn't break, and that convinced me of the positive attributes of working with metal.
Not winning a couple of key competitions/commissions along the way has been as important to me as the ones I've won. It creates the opportunity to reassess, re-evaluate, and renew my commitment to the field.
What’s the favourite part of your job?
A favourite part of my "job" is to see a tiny speck on the horizon in my mind and then cajole and coax it forward into something discernable, then turn it over and inside out, identify it, listen to it, question it, and challenge it, take it apart, put it back together in a different way, then sketch it or hum it or play it, crumple it up and throw it away, then pick it back up and carefully unfold it and see its form, surface, sound, and colours as if for the first time. Then if I can hear its whispers, I start the work of making it manifest, giving it a name, giving it a place, and investing it with presence.
The other favourite part is playing with scale: thinking big and then zooming in to work close up on the smallest surface detail.
Any other Alberta artists you’d recommend?
Other Alberta artists whose work has given me a jolt would include: photographers Craig Richards and Barbara Spohr, clay artists Ed Bamiling and Katrina Chaytor, sculptors Blake Senini, Catherine Burgess, and Peter Von T., choreographers Jorden Morris and Denise Clarke, poets Jon Whyte and Steven Ross Smith, painters Pascale Ouellet and Chris Millar, musicians Layten Kramers and Rachel Gauk.
Where can we find your work?
Pieces sited in the public realm are in Edmonton, Lloydminster, Calgary, Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby, UBC, and Burlington, Washington, Canmore, and soon Lethbridge. My website is www.tonybloom.ca.