Brad Chapman Bleau, returning to Worcester after completing his MFA, plans a fall exhibit at Worcester State University’s Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery to highlight a specific, vibrant side of the local art scene. Titled “WooTown Funk,” the exhibition, which runs from September 15 to October 13, features work by 11 local artists, including Bleau himself. The goal is to make the Dolphin Art Gallery a focal point for the city’s art scene so that local artists can use it as a public space. The fall exhibition will live up to its name, exploring contemporary, somewhat surreal themes in a funky way. Bleau sits down with Last Call to discuss collecting artists, finding inspiration in yard sales, and what funk is all about.
What was the inspiration behind the show’s name?
The reason we call it WooTown Funk is that their work is really out of the way, aggressive and unapologetic. The subject we’re dealing with is very human, yet blends into that surreal world. That show doesn’t necessarily have a theme, but this particular artist collective has some contextual threads between us all. The chaos of human, material culture, visual culture.
Talk about galleries. You said you wanted to give it more exposure? Is this new?
It’s been around for 13 years, but it’s not connected to the art department on campus, so it’s a bit out of touch. It’s also in the WSU Tech Building, so it’s a bit odd. But it’s right on Chandler Street, so it’s one of the first places you see it. People don’t realize it’s a public art gallery — it’s not limited to WSU students and faculty. One of my goals was to promote this as a really good gallery space open to the Worcester art world. I wish it was called “Dolphin”. Like “Have you heard of the dolphinarium activity?” or something like that.
Tell me a little about calling artists for the show?
I curated the show, and it’s basically a collective of local artists I’ve known over the years, all with unique styles, perspectives, and voices. I hope to show their work in a new space. This gallery is an unknown to the Worcester art world, and we want to tell you it’s an artist’s choice. You see a lot of the same people on the show, it’s a tight-knit group and we all support each other. I chose my favorite styles, the ones that I thought would be popular. So it’s a mixed group. Some I learned about through local exhibitions in the area, Worcester stores like CC Lowell — the basement where my studio is located — and the weekly art market.
They started last year and just took off. Local artisans set up outdoor stalls and you can walk around and shop. There are usually food trucks and music. CC Lowell has one in the summer parking lot, but the beginning of the street is another that attracts thousands each year.
As an artist, do you have something?
Yes, I am participating. I’m not sure what I’m eating there. My new work is about material culture – I’m working on vintage objects and our connection to them. Interpretation is open, making the context a bit vague. It combines these very real, tangible objects of our past and allows the viewer to make their own connection with these objects and make up their own stories about what happened in that piece.
How do you define material culture?
A culture created by the things we make and the nostalgia associated with those objects. I am a picker, a collector. I go to yard sales and love to find diamonds in rough, like antiques with a story. I just finished my MFA at Goddard College in Vermont and this is what my dissertation is about.
How did you come into contact with this art?
I grew up skateboarding, there was a lot of funky and weird art in skateboard graphics, and then I got into tattoo iconography, which led me to MassArt for illustration. Some material culture emerges at the intersection of garbage collection and art.
What have you been collecting recently that excites you?
Last weekend I went to a yard sale all over Rutland and got some old McDonald’s toys from the 90’s for free. It was a weird cartoon world they created, and the images were all over the place. Ads back then were crazy. They put their own label on everything they could, and it got people to buy more and more – it was tapped into society and created a common visual language. Even though we can’t talk about it the same way, we all know it.
What is your favorite piece of work?
I’m really addicted to Nathan Clark Bentley’s work. I met him through the Fitchburg Art Museum – they have a regional craft show every year that anyone who lives near Fitchburg can attend. He actually won the top prize two years ago, and some of those awards relate to next year’s solo exhibition. We met last year, when one of my paintings was on display, and we got to know each other. He just finished a new work a week or two ago and it’s going to be on the show, and I’m really excited.
Are you from Worcester?
I grew up in Worcester County and I grew up in Paxton, but I spend all my time in Worcester. I went to MIT as an illustrator and lived in Boston for about 6-8 years. When I moved back here, I met some Worcester State staff who encouraged me to get my master’s degree. It was like my first step into teaching. I just finished teaching three courses in the art department, making up for a professor who was on leave.