Happy birthday, Oleson Gallery and Bloom Art Center! Bloom has been open one year in May 2015, and the artists who congregate there have celebrated the center’s first anniversary by painting murals all over the large 20,000 sq. ft. building, on all the interior and exterior walls. The “underground art scene” flourishes in the center founded by artist James Oleson and his partner, Mitzi Gordon.
“It is hard to paint murals,” said Oleson. “Once you get large enough, it’s very physical. It’s similar to building a large sculpture, due to the sheer scale of it.”
Since moving his gallery and studio into the large warehouse building, Oleson has taken on the physical and financial responsibility for keeping Bloom alive.
“When I had the Oleson Gallery over on the 600 Block, people were making artwork before the show in that little back yard area. I saw such a need,” said Oleson. “People live in small apartments. People needed a bigger space to make stuff and show stuff. If people aren’t active and really trying to make St. Pete into an arts hub, I would be concerned it could fizzle out. It’s about building the city you want to live in. I have traveled around and seen places with a lot more sculpture and public art.”
“There’s the Wynwood area of Miami, drawing famous artists like Shepard Fairey to paint warehouse buildings,” wrote Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times Arts and Entertainment editor. “There’s Philadelphia, with its program hiring former vandals to make murals.”
“There are thousands of outdoor murals in Philadelphia,” said Wayne Atherholt, an area leader in the arts. “It’s really become quite a tourist attraction and it just makes sense to do, particularly in this area. We have a number of buildings and walls and St. Pete is an arts destination. Probably the best in Florida.”
Mitzi Gordon is Oleson’s administrative partner. She feels her role is to support Oleson’s vision for the art center. Both Oleson and Gordon have taken leadership roles in Pinellas County’s art community.
James Oleson is an acclaimed artist who enjoys creating sculpture that utilizes recycled materials, as well as painting on cars, buildings, stage sets, and other surfaces. He teaches sculpture classes at the Morean Arts Center. His sculptural horses are well loved in his home city of St. Petersburg and wherever they are installed. Oleson has a passion for finding objects considered to be useless or broken and giving them new life as art, making things bigger and better than they were before.
Oleson uses found objects and recycled materials in almost everything he makes. “I’m picking up waste to make art, things that other people have discarded. We are surrounded by materials (to use for making art),” he said. “That’s why I teach kids. My whole idea behind teaching children is that you don’t have to have a bunch of fancy materials to make art. A lot of younger kids think they can’t create art because they don’t have materials (art supplies), but materials are all around us.”
“Art is in your mind,” he said. “Bringing it out is just a matter of doing it creatively. You can pick up some plastic, some wood, some shells. It’s all over the place. We are surrounded by stuff. Not having money for supplies is not an excuse.”
Mitzi Gordon is the Executive Director and the one full time staff member of Creative Pinellas, Pinellas county’s local non-profit arts agency. The web site and newsletter Creative Pinellas generates, Articulate, disseminates information about events and people in the arts community. “Creative Pinellas is designed to build connections between other arts agencies,” said Gordon. Creative Pinellas was formed in 2011 with a mission to promote, incubate, develop and sustain the region’s creative communities. Gordon served as Media Manager of the organization’s ARTICULATE arts website since 2012. She took the reins as Executive Director in February 2014. Gordon works with another part time staff member and volunteers in the community to help artists and the arts survive and thrive.
A recent project Gordon accomplished was a new proposal she prepared for increased countywide arts funding. Gordon developed this proposal following a series of public input sessions, advisory group meetings, and through her dedicated research. She presented her proposal at a public meeting of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners on May 12, 2015. It is hoped the funding to follow from this proposal will help to sustain the artists in Pinellas County.
Oleson, Gordon, and an unorganized group of talented artists have worked together to make Bloom a unique visual arts venue, providing artists with a gallery, working studios, educational opportunities and a cool place for events. “We describe the art center as a multipurpose, inspirational workspace,” said Gordon.
“Places like Bloom are needed to provide a space for artists to dream up things, create and build,” Oleson said. “I enjoy creating opportunities for artists. I am an artist first. I’m just running the space from an artistic perspective.”
There is a for-profit art gallery in the building, featuring the work of resident artists. Oleson and Gordon are in the process of making a part of Bloom a non-profit education center as well. Contributions and donations are gratefully accepted. Paint and supplies are always needed.
Oleson Gallery and Bloom Art Center
910 5th Ave North, Saint Petersburg, Florida 33701
For more information email email@example.com
Bloom Facebook page
An event named Muralism is planned as a celebration of Bloom’s anniversary, with self-guided tours of the murals painted on the inside and outside of the building, using a numbered guide to artists’ work. Live bands will play, and a food truck and cash donation bar will be available. The party will be held at Bloom on May 23, 2015, from 5 pm to midnight. An open wall is available for painting at the event, starting from 4 pm. Admission to the event is $9.
Artists contributing to MURALISM include Acud Akut, Allen Leper Hampton, Andreas Taborda, Antonio del Toro, Aurailieus, BASK, Chon Mosley, Daniel “R5” Barojas, Derek Donnelly, Eleanor Rigby, Emily Stone, James Hicks, James Oleson, Jeff Williams, Jennifer Kosharek, Jon Fisher, John Lichtenstein, John Suarez, John Taormina, Justin Wagher, Kim Stone, Korey Lightford, Ladi Dadi, Mason Schwake, Nicholas Kekllas, OWCH, Rheannon Cheri, Scott Hillis, Sebastian Coolidge, Stephen Palladino, STOIC, Suzy Schultz, Jared THIRST Hernandez, Van Der Luc, Von Zombo, and Zulu Painter.
Performances at the event by:
with DJs Kalani and Rozak
“Suzy Schultz, who recently showed her work at Mainsail, did the portrait in the front room,” said Oleson. “She said it was the first big piece she has done like that.”
Zulu Painter is Painter/Scenic Artist and is one of the contributing artists at Bloom. “The opportunity to create art on this scale is wonderful!” he said.
“I came to the studios one day, and saw James Oleson and Sebastian Coolidge were out sketching on the 30 foot wall that faces MLK Street. ‘We’re painting it all!’ they said to me,” Zulu said. “OK! Muralism had begun and I was down for the cause!”
“The artists of Saint Petersburg are connected by our art and eager to show the world what we can do,” said Zulu. “Bloom was created to give art a place to grow. You know, “to Bloom”. The diversity alone will make this event interesting. Whew! These walls are tall!”
Daniel Barojas is working on a mural on the building exterior, “Mask of Life and Rebirth” or “Mask of the Three Ages” from Mayan culture. The Mayas, an ancient Indian people who lived in Central America and Mexico, had a high degree of civilization from the 200’s A.D. to the 800’s, but declined long before they were discovered by the Spaniards.
“Mayans believed that death is simply a transition point, a sacred time at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another one,” said Barojas. “The subject matter of my mural shows the three different stages of life as part of a never ending cycle of human evolution, through life and the afterlife. The inner face represents the beginning of life at birth and young age stage. The middle face represents the adult and old age stage, and the outer face represents death and the end of earthly life.”
“I’m really excited for the anniversary show,” said Eleanor Rigby. “I was one of the people that was around helping to paint Bloom before we opened, so it’s a big deal.”
“The mural I am painting is actually an adaptation from a piece I had already sold to a client before,” Rigby said. “The original piece is called Antoinette in the Paisley Garden of Her Mind. It shows a regal woman sitting stiffly in a sofa with an octopus coming up from behind. Over the top of the piece it reads ‘Someone’s Gotta Help Me Dig.” As I started, it really reminded me of my mother who has Alzheimer’s. (The idea) grew and I carried this general feeling throughout the piece about people who are in a restrictive situation or they hold unwanted beliefs so deeply that they don’t know how to unroot them or themselves. I imagined that an octopus would be great at digging to help them out because it has eight legs. I think my original intentions behind this one stemmed from oppression.”
“I’m pretty new to murals so I’m taking the style way back, old school, all brush work, which means I’m there every day until show night working on it,” she said. “But it adds another element, a break from everything, as Oleson says, which is nice.”
“Of course, everyone sees something different when they look at a work of art and that is part of the beauty,” Rigby said.
James Oleson agrees with this philosophy, and did not want to give his murals a title. “When someone comes and engages a piece of art, it may mean something totally different to them than what it meant to you,” he said. “I want people to interpret my art in their own way.”
These murals will add to the color of St. Petersburg, which now has a tour of public murals downtown, with a web site and Facebook page to share them. The Walking Mural Tours start at 10 am every Saturday morning at Florida CraftArt, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Here is a detailed list of murals in downtown St. Petersburg by Malcolm Johnson.
“This is a gift to the community,” Oleson said. “Mark Taber, the owner of the building, brought a great deal of paint for the project. Each individual artist also brought their own paint and shared with other artists. We have painted regular and irregular surfaces, like vehicles and floors, stuff regular people wouldn’t think about having painted.”
“A year ago, when we opened, everything was white, beige, blank,” said Gordon. “To have come in a year’s time and see the depth of transformation is exciting.”
“This happened very organically over time,” said Oleson. “We started on the interior and it started bleeding over onto the outside of the building. When we started counting, we were blown away because it had gotten up to twenty, and there are more still coming in. At this point there are over thirty-five participating artists. This project challenges some artists who might not have done something like this before. It helps them become inspired to try new artistic expression.”
“At the end, all the artists involved have pushed each other to create new techniques,” Gordon said. “They learn from one another to interact with art either as a viewer or participant. We want to continue to include that educational thread through everything we do.”
“I enjoy doing collaborative pieces with other artists,” said Oleson. “I like to provide inspiration for other artists and learn from one another. The best way to learn and improve upon what you are doing is to work together.”
“There are so many artists in our community that are friends!” Oleson said. “In some cities, there are galleries right next door to one another and they don’t speak. I’m looking to make this a place for artistic expression. It’s really a privilege to be a big part of making it all happen. It’s one big pool. Everybody has great ideas to bring to the table. Everybody wants to show what they can do, but they just need a place to do it. Together, we can have more of an impact. You can do your art alone in a corner somewhere, or you can share it with others.”
Oleson says he prefers creating public art pieces. “I put sculpture and mural art out there, and as I do that I am sharing it with the community,” said Oleson. “It’s different than showing and selling it in a gallery. Everybody in the city is enjoying it. I like the impact it makes.”
“With the big murals and the sculpture, there’s no real ownership to it,” Oleson said. “Art makes people’s day better. The way your car is painted might make somebody smile.”
“What I am trying to show people with Muralism is that they can transform what they already have into public art,” he said. “A lot of times, people put in landscaping and trees, but they don’t realize that they can consider using the walls to bring positive attention to a business. Hiring an artist to paint your walls shows that you care about the city and St. Petersburg’s art community. We just want to put it out there for everyone to enjoy.”
“I’m going to keep making stuff bigger and bigger, more impressive and with more mediums,” he said. “I need people to appreciate the time and effort and how we can all come together. Art has the ability to unify and strengthen, and brings this great vibration to the city. I want the whole thing to grow. Murals are almost like flowers. They are beautiful things. I want Bloom to plant seeds.”
“People that have walls, I want them to pick up this idea and run with it,” Oleson said. “You can be proud to contribute to the city and say, ‘Look, I did this for everyone to enjoy.’ It’s a good thing!”
“I would love for the artists to get more opportunities based on somebody seeing the work that they did here,” Oleson said. “They did their part. I am helping the artistic landscape. Hopefully, other people will see it and want artists to paint their businesses and homes. “