BWW Reviews: Portrait of the Artist Timothy Blum: Too Young to Die

By: May. 24, 2013

Portrait of the Artist Timothy Blum; Too Young to Die

Don't rest in peace buddy, give 'em hell in heaven.

"To hand make a mass-produced item is so stupid it's smart. It's a transformation. It doesn't work if it's not real size. It convinces you. In the surreal world, anything happens but there's a logic to it. " Timothy Blum.

Who is to say what is our fair share, our allotment of dripping sand on this bluish ball we mostly disdain with our thoughtful philosophy and yet hang on to dearly when the last grains trickle by? Timothy Blum's life was cut short, mid-career just when everything was coming together for this Baltimore raised artist transplanted to Korea via the South Bronx. At least we now know who is to blame for helping God cast man with all their imperfections and surprises from the fire.

Tim at work; Midas in the bathtub, half plated with pennies and nickels the old fashioned way. Alchemy, mysticism and transformation were elements in most of his work.

"I like to reach back in time and mimic the creation of early inventions and technology in my studio. My shop is set up to imitate that of Thomas Edison's, as he is one of my heroes. I feel that recapturing that same astonishment, building and creating early technology and presenting it in a modern setting creates the perfect amalgamation between art and science. My sculptures alter the intrinsic value of definition of objects in such a way as to evoke new interpretations of conceptual alchemy, forcing the audience to reevaluate the familiar."

Tim entered the art world with a bit of a handicap, his name was already taken by the famous gallerist at Blum and Poe. He did his BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art and his MFA, which he was particularly proud of, at Virginia Commonwealth's great sculpture program. He studied at the prestigious Skowhegan residency and spent some time at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf until he got fed up when he could not figure out how to get carpet and saw this as a symbol he was not fitting in and it was time to return to New York.

Bing Lee's installation. Bing was the connection that got Tim his teaching job at HongIK

On a sunny day in 2006 I brought a group of four Asian art's players through a few South Bronx studios. Within a few months one artist, Linda Cunningham would have an exhibition in Chelsea; Linda would have to move some of her work downtown for the show. Tim would have to move his work further east.

Bing Lee, a friend, artist and past arts administrator on the tour was taken by Tim's studio and touched based with his friend at Honk IK, the premier Art University in Korea often referred to as the Yale of Korea. They were looking for an American to teach. This would fulfill one of Tim's life long dreams to teach art at a venerable university and make him influence a generation of young minds. Within a few months I was with Tim filling in his visa application, telling him, no, it's not sculpture but drawing that you are teaching and hearing him thank me for my good handwriting and saying that would be a plus for me in my artistic career.

Camel clothed in tobacco leaf skin and head of a Bronx artist- thinker, Joseph McElroy as a light bulb.

Tim's Father was dying and the camel in tobacco clothing was his way of dealing with his fathers imminent death from smoking. Many artist's work's are portraits of personal stories left out of the history of art.

Don't ask, but somehow with the guidance of Carol Zakaluk, the studio got packed up and sent to Tim who had left a few months earlier for Korea. The Camel, the oversized Dr. Eckleberg's X-Ray glasses, the bathtub loaded with Midas et al was shipped to the Pomona New York storage space I rented to hold onto his art before the Bronx Landlord threw it all out on the street for passed due rent. About a year later we would reassemble to decide what could fit in the container so his work could be sent over to Korea.

HongIK University, Korea

All was going well. Tim had a studio at Honk IK with an ample supply of assistants, found a woman, fell in love, got the white horse and road into the wilderness. Ever wonder why you never here what happens at the end of fairytales? It because once Hollywood leaves the house and the bare set is left, nothing happens gloriously. We do the dishes and bicker over dinner, clothing and 'what you lookin at." We never end up happy, fulfilled, in love, with the wind in our hair, walking with man and god daily. At best we get a glimpse in a dream.

Tim Blum installation. Tim was interested in sleep, dreams and the line between what we perceive to be real, the imagined and reality.

In 2012 there was the scare. Tim needed throat surgery and he was unable to hold down solids. This would be a problem, how was he to have his traditional steak dinner before his openings? It seemed to get better several months after surgery. He was enjoying a sabbatical from Hong IK spending time in his other studio in the 798 district in China. A few seasons spun past and one of those rare dreaded emails arrived in most of his friend's inboxes; No one knew exactly what happened, everyone knew he was dying, quickly.

We will never know what really happened? I could write an odd fiction story based on bits of his life that I'd heard through late night free calls from Asia worthy of an Agatha Christie mystery. Maybe it was his waving of the tape as a threat to tie down his recent bride to prevent her from heading out to the Korean nightlife that made her snap and add something to his tea. He told me she knew what the tape meant. It was easy to feel all was not well in Disney Land. Tim was,for all his occasional barks and posturing a soft, quiet man that could not harm a fly.

"Dr. T.J. Eckleburg" 2002, 9'x9'x3' Wood, Lead, Glass, 2 X-Ray Machines, Steel

How do we judge a man's life, should we even do so, wasn't that God's old job? One way out is to look to his peers, to his friends and to hear the respect they had for him and to see his influence.

I was lucky to be introduced to many great artists through Tim. After all, though he would not take a formal title when I first founded haven arts in 2004 based on him saying , "Barry there is a place you should see," he did like to be thought of as the first fry cook. Indeed he was.

Brent Crothers, "Water Wars", used garden hoses Steven Fishman, "Rocket", Anodized Aluminum, Painted Wood, Lollipops and Tim Blum's oversized "Wishbone" with gold spray paint

His friends Brent Crothers, Steven Fishman, and many others would show at haven as Tim slowly stirred the curatorial soup. Conversations with Serge J-F Levy a fellow Vassar grad around Tim's table with Batman figurines watching from their posts were precious moments life doles out stingily. Is there anything wrong with showing your friends? Yes, if their art sucks. With Tim and other great artists you needn't worry about this, I don't think they could bare a bad artist as a friend. Tim's was not a myopic view and the work we showed was moving and real enough to grab some hotly fought after New York press from the likes of Holland Cotter and Jerry Saltz as well as others from across the pond.

Tim Blum,"Midas Machine" 2003
6'x2'x4' Lead, Nickels, Pennies, Wood, Glass, Gold , the usual art materials

At times great fights would erupt. Hammers would be taken to his planted casting of golden shit buried in the sidewalk outside the doors of haven by relative strangers that said, "I know a Tim Blum, is that his." He once tried to provoke a fight with a sweater wearing artist that though placid might have erupted and killed him right then and there.

Tim Blum,"Almaden" 2001. Cast Frozen Mercury Coins. The only thing I ever refused Tim was to set up a refrigerated housing for a project involving Mercury that would be ok as long as the electricity was pumping, otherwise we would have had our own little Fukushima in the South Bronx.

There are many little stories. There is one big one. Tim Blum was well revered by his friends and fellow artists. He was in many ways a conceptual guiding light and an old fashioned maker of poetic objects that moved you in many ways. Yes, there was a bit of the DADA-Surrealist in him pouring milk out at intervals and capturing the time stopped images with progressive sculptures much like Muybridge used photographs.

Golem's foot, Brass. Tim never full realized his project to animate a Golem with metal underpinnings and clay skin for a stop motion short film. He once handed me a library book photo of the human body's skeletal structure and asked me to make it life size out of brass in my then metal working factory in the South Bronx..

We argued about Damian Hirst. Tim spoke highly of Damian's conceptual prowess to his students, I think Damian is a fraud and symbolizes much that is wrong with the art world. Tim and I were great friends and yes at times we hated each other. If you really knew Tim you had to hate him at one time or another. Occasionally Tim would complain and yet I would sense a ray of pride shining through when he told me an ex- girlfriend was stealing ideas from his notebooks. We had moved past our unresolved problems and sensed life was more than this or that argument. We continued as friends inspiring each other and we both took pride in our friendship.

It is hard to verbalize such a loss. Words are funny symbols ill suited for emotions. I was with him deeply as I arranged some of his art a few days ago. I felt him as I moved a glass ice cube tray in cobalt blue near the life size black almost glass sculpture of Rasheed and a faux beer can. I knew he was passing and though it sounds foolish I felt him there for a brief moment. I will miss his late night calls and chats and the ever present child cartoons playing in his once Bronx studio. My friend Tim ( Timo as he proudly told me his students called him) will stay close to me, and alive in his art, I will miss his voice though I can see it in his work.

I will always see Tim in some of the random things that pass within eyeshot on an average day. An important artist can make us see a little differently. Am I guilty of writing about a friend whose artworks I own? Is this too personal a story and are the selected tails my choice and not the whole story? If you look simply you could make such an argument but I have learned from a good friend that will be missed to look more deeply.


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