Article by Lyn Ferlo
as seen through the eyes of a local artist
Chinese movies can be very good for art.
If you were John Mowder and had just spent the summer watching them you might also have been moved to step in the storefront to talk to the Chinese man sitting on a bucket.
That is the origin of Bloomfield Artworks.
"I saw him sitting there, not thinking he was the landlord. I wanted to talk to him and the next thing I knew I was signing a lease. I had spent most of my working life in the circus and wasn't looking forward to my next booking. I had done every circus job there is -- concessionaire, painting billboards and banners, ringmaster, even acting the clown and I was getting tired of traveling and figured I could start something of my own where, as the ringmaster, I could produce my own fabulous shows, be surrounded by interesting people -- maybe even introduce some new 'star' to my audience."
In the two plus years Bloomfield Artworks has been opened, it has provided Bloomfield with the spectacle of people overflowing the doors as John has cheerfully hosted artist of all disciplines in the beautiful space. John is dedicated to providing Pittsburgh artists a venue to exhibit their work and to providing Pittsburghers a place to see and purchase it. It is unique to Bloomfield Artworks that all artists are welcome to show there without needing John's determination that one is or is not an artist or that one's work is or is not marketable. "I don't want to give the impression that we show hobbyist. There is a line which has to be made gently clear. I explain to them that maybe they should spend more time enjoying their interest before they put it up for criticism from the public. It would be like going on stage to sing solo when you maybe needed more time to prepare. This saves the inexperienced artists a potentially embarrassing situation and protects the gallery's reputation. I only ask that a level of accomplishment be reflected. Serious artists work very long and hard to reach a level that demonstrates accomplishment. That effort should be recognized and applauded. The choice of work - the imagery and subject - is up to the artist. I may not respond to it, but if it shows work and a passion for image making I have to respect that." For him, the show's the thing and he will rent you his space for however long you want it. "It's an unusual situation here (in the US) but a most common form of showing in a European gallery as I have been told."
As a gallery owner, he is an artist's dream. He will give you all the help you need or stay completely out of your way. That is attributable to his personal philosophy about what art is, how it should be presented (he believes such determinations should be made by the artist) and his experiences as an artist with other galleries. He holds two themed exhibits each year - the Sacred Art Show in July and the Figure Drawing Exhibit of works done mostly by artists who meet in his open workshop on Thursday evenings.
As an artist, his work is unsurpassed in his use of color and compositions. When you look at his On The Road series of collages you are drawn into a world of utter beauty. The colors are bright and happy, the compositions exciting, joyful and intriguing. You move from one to another in discovery and you want to keep traveling with him. You are drawn into the world as he sees it -- full of magic and endless possibilities. The work is not frivolous. It is the world of an intelligent man who sees far beyond the everyday and wants to share with you the gift of happiness.
It is a testament to his optimism and hard work that the gallery remains open. It is also a testament to his framer, Richard Schurz, who produces exquisite frames for anything you value enough to seal under glass, including baseball jerseys, diplomas, your grandmother's wedding dress and, of course, poster and artwork.
John's latest project is working with the merchants on Liberty Avenue to place window boxes in their buildings, thereby turning Bloomfield into something more than just the name of a neighborhood. He and his gallery are valuable and exciting additions to Liberty Avenue and we are lucky to have him there.
It would be interesting to know what the I Ching might have predicted for John the day he walked into the storefront to talk to a Chinese man sitting on a bucket.