Story and photographs by Richard Brody
You probably don’t know Bob Blood, but you may very well have been in the presence of his work. Bob is an artist who is best known for his abstract sculptures. If you live in Schenectady, you might have seen one of his pieces in the Rose Garden in Central Park, at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center or on the grounds of the First Unitarian Society on Wendell Avenue. In Albany, you might have glimpsed one of his pieces at the Albany Law School campus, along the sidewalk of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception or at the Albany Jewish Community Center, where one of his first commissions, the “Burning Bush” can be seen.
A large sample of Bob’s drawings, figures and abstract pieces can be currently seen at the Promenade Gallery located at 138 Jay Street in Schenectady. Owned and operated by Embarek Mesbahi, the gallery is generally open only by appointment (518-312-1829) but it will be open to the public on the evening of Friday (September 21) for the Art Night Schenectady arts walk.
I first met Bob’s work when my wife and I bought a house just around the corner from his home. Bob’s yard functions as a local gallery; larger pieces are in the front, while smaller ones are installed along the side and in the back. The most striking work is the tallest, “Three Fates” (2002), comprised of three seemingly shrouded figures that appear to be making decisions about someone’s destiny.
Blood’s large sculptures are primarily constructed out of Cor-ten steel, which initially has a dramatic orange-brown tone but ages into a darker brown hue. The design of the pieces gives them a feeling of lightness, and his use of space is critical to that end. As he puts it, “I want my pieces to be space embracing and not space displacing.”
The construction of the larger pieces required Bob to become a skilled welder. “I didn’t really learn much about welding during my years as a student, and I recognized that if I was going to realize my artistic ideas, becoming a technically skilled welder would be critical. So I took a welding class that was part of Scotia’s Adult Education program.”
Two of Bob’s larger pieces that make use of his skill as a welder are important outdoor works, “Sanctuary” (1977) and “Portal” (1989). The former was commissioned by the First Unitarian Society in Schenectady and is 13 feet in height and 18 feet in width. Its spacious openings invite viewers literally into the interior of the piece and, as one moves around the inside, there is a constantly changing perspective on Blood’s creation. The latter piece, “Portal,” was supported by the Jewish-Christian Dialogue Committee to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the group’s quest for better interfaith understanding and resides alongside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. The sculpture is 16 feet high with a massive opening that captures the intent of the group: to forgive and pass through with a better understanding of each other.
Bob recalled that one of the most moving experiences connected to his art occurred at the opening celebration for “Portal.” One of the participants, a holocaust survivor, remarked, “I feel cleansed.”
In 2002, the Schenectady Museum hosted a four-month retrospective of Bob’s non-commissioned large pieces, 17 works in all. Part of the celebration of his work was a performance by the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company that incorporated 13 of the pieces as part of the set design of the choreography. For Bob, it was a coming together of the human figure with his abstract pieces.
Prior to the retrospective, Bob had had a long, mutually beneficial relationship with the museum both as a teacher and as an artist-in-residence for a seven-year period from 1960-67. It was during the residency that Bob’s creative juices really flowed, and he began getting commissions to design and construct his sculptures. One of those commissions produced a figural abstraction entitled “The Family.” The piece has bold flowing lines that capture the essence of family togetherness.
In addition to Bob’s large abstract pieces, his art never left the human figure for long. The importance of using a model was instilled in him by his teachers, Harry Rosin and Walker Hancock, during his student days at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Bob told me, “I adore the female figure. My work on the female form is the yin to the yang of my abstract pieces. One side energizes ideas about the other.”
Some of these pieces, as well as table size abstract pieces and larger interior ones, are currently on exhibit at the Promenade Art Gallery in Schenectady. I urge you to pay a visit and spend some time with Bob’s work. You will not be sorry, and you might just add a piece to your art collection that will surely enhance your living space.