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Sharon Bladholm

Sharon Bladholm has pursued her artistic vision through the steady acquisition and command of a variety of disciplines, including cast glass, bronze, and ceramic in the sculptural realm, as well as stained glass, printmaking and works on paper. The recurring theme in Bladholm’s work is the interdependence of people with the natural world, our inherent biophilia and interfaces of art and science, with a special focus on the botany. She has participated on expeditions with the Field Museum and Conservation International to the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, documenting the life ways of the Yanomami people through her art, and exploring conservation of endangered plant and animal species in isolated communities and ecosystems.

She has run Opal Glass Studios since 1983 and continues to complete many important commissions and show her work in galleries and museums, as well as creating public art such as installations at the Garfield Park Conservatory and Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, France, as well as Suite Home Chicago, Amazon Rising and a Cool Globe sponsored by the Chicago Botanic Garden. Last year she completed sculptural works in glass and bronze for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. This year she is working on another public art piece for Openlands new preserve based on soil creatures!

She will return soon to the Peruvian Amazon to create new works of art.

My interest in the natural world of the plant kingdom has been a lifelong fascination. I can remember sitting in my grandparents' garden in Chicago as a young child sketching the many types of flowers, vegetables and wild strawberry plants that grew there and from that point have never tired of recapturing the same child-like wonder in creating my works of art. My love of nature deepened in the woods of Wisconsin where each summer, with my family, we camped upon forty acres of forested land.

Sharon Bladholm has pursued her artistic vision through the steady acquisition and command of a variety of disciplines including glass, bronze, ceramic and printmaking. Since 1976, when she established Opal Glass Studio, she has expanded her focus from flat to three dimensional mediums, her range of subject from the surrounding natural world to that of indigenous cultures isolated from the modern society. Her body of work has become a living testament to the rapid encroachment of technology upon the environment.

ARTIST STATEMENT:

For much of my artistic life, my sculpture has been a response to a long term investigation of the transient nature of the human figure. My starting point in the creative process begins with simple materials such as wax, plaster and clay and after a process of maturation is finally formed into glass, bronze and ceramic. Each of these materials becomes a word in a growing vocabulary, allowing me the possibility to express more with the properties of the particular substance. I am seduced anew by the tension between the advantages, and limitations that each presents. Each one teaches me about the other and causes a situation of cross pollination. Each one is a process that involves intensities of heat integral to the final transformation of one substance giving way to another. The intrinsic qualities of these materials speak to the corresponding strengths, frailties, and the innumerable mutable as well as unexpected states of humaness as well as becoming a paradigm for the cycles of nature through the symbolic transposition of these aspects to specific materials used within each of the art works.

Through my work I attempt to offer an insight as to what this sense of humanity leads to in terms of my own experience. I believe that the figure becomes an appropriate vehicle allowing me to address the larger concerns of the human condition. It is very important that my work can reach across social, economic, and cultural barriers reaching back to that time when art was not a separate function of life and spoke a more universal language.

My time spent in the living libraries of North, Central, and South America forests, amidst various indigenous peoples has profoundly influenced my art to the same measure. Much of my work has been in direct response to my different experiences living with the Yanomami peoples of Brazil and Venezuela, where I filled volumes of my sketch books with all types of plant forms. These sketches would become the nucleus for an internal record of the many varied elements of plant anatomy, leaf, stem, seed, stamen, blossom, thorn that would form a lexicon of symbolic natural elements that would infuse much of my later work.

The close observation from nature metamorphosed into my own vision of the natural forms much in the same way that my dual interest in human forms has also progressed. I became intensively focused on the understated, little appreciated, relationship of humanity with the plant kingdom, which despite our efforts to destroy it sustains our existence upon this planet. Two emergent themes of my visual universe came forth in the consistent portrayal of the human form and the dynamics of organic plant forms as sharing a common morphology. This correlation led to an almost unconscious intermingling of both kinds of shapes in the resultant final image or object where the somatic knowledge of each resonates within the other in the manifestation of hybrid forms. This work seems to come of a compulsion to 're-bioengineer' the concept of the human species, co-mingling the structural elements of both but stressing plant-like sensibilities.

My art making is a response to a long term investigation into the transient nature of the human figure and the natural world, especially botanical forms. My starting point in the creative process begins with simple materials such as wax, plaster and clay and after a process of molten maturation is finally formed into glass, bronze and ceramic.

I believe that human and organic form become an appropriate vehicle allowing me to address the larger concerns of the human condition, especially as it relates to nature. It is very important that my work reaches across social, economic, and cultural barriers reaching back to that time when art was not a separate function of life and spoke a more universal language.

My time spent in the living libraries of Latin American jungles, amidst various indigenous peoples has profoundly influenced my art. My participation on scientific expeditions has allowed access to remote and pristine ecosystems where people still live in direct interface with their environment. Numerous onsite sketches of the botanical exuberance in rain forested areas become an internal depository of plant anatomy, leaf, stamen, stem, seed, blossom and thorn, creating an inherent intelligence that informs and infuses my work.

Through my artwork I intend to visually engage the viewer and communicate the importance of human relationships and interaction with the biological wealth that delights, surrounds and sustains us. I hope to integrate the sometimes separate disciplines of art, science, conservation and the natural world into a seamless visual experience that can affect a subtle shift in perception.

EDUCATION:

Independent studies in ceramics under Tom Malone, Illinois State University, 1998-99

Independent studies in glass casting under Bill Carlson, University of Illinois, 1996-97

Independent studies in glass casting under Joel Myers, Illinois State University, 1995

Multi-disciplinary studies in painting drawing printmaking and sculpture, School of the Art Institute Chicago 1990-94

Printmaking and drawing studies, Columbia College, 1976-78

On-site archeological studies, Northwestern University, 1972-73

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