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Critical Mass 8 Best of Show Visual Artist Joe Bluhm Has His Head in the Clouds

Joe Bluhm and Dominique McLemore exhibit at artspace in downtown Shreveport

Published: August 31, 2023
Last Updated: November 30, 2023

Critical Mass 8 Best of Show Visual Artist Joe Bluhm Has His Head in the Clouds

Joe Bluhm

A collage of works by Joe Bluhm.

Joe Bluhm has worked on Academy– and Emmy Award–winning productions in animation and has illustrated a New York Times bestselling picture book. With his company, Sweet Cloud Studios, and upcoming artspace exhibition, 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 Academy Award–winning filmmaker, writer, and illustrator William Joyce led him to Shreveport. Their years-long collaborative friendship includes the creation of the 2012 Academy Award winner for 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 the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) 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 October 21.

Bluhm said he was motivated to enter SRAC’s regional competition because of the spirit of the Critical Mass event—the energy, the people, and the way in which 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,” said Bluhm. “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 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 head is a woman or man, creating an appealing ambiguity. The atmosphere of the sky, changing leaves, and trees blowing in the wind that surround the subject allow 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.”

Bluhm is in the process of preparing his Critical Mass solo exhibition. He talks about Cumulus 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 the downstairs artspace gallery through October 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. This award, open exclusively to residents of Louisiana, includes a $500 stipend and a one-week artist retreat to create and participate in an artist talk and workshop in the KAT.

McLemore describes himself as an impact artist who likes to start a conversation with his art. He often utilizes social commentary in his work, such as his piece with an angry-faced male holding out flowers instead of pointing a gun. “I create art to evoke emotion,” said 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 of flowers 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 styles of rapper Jay-Z and neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whom he admires. HUEMANEiTY will be a collection of thirty captivating, colorful works, including twelve evocative portraits of friends and a self-portrait.

Joe Bluhm and Dominique McLemore exhibit at artspace in downtown Shreveport through October 21. To find out more visit artspaceshreveport.com.