Last Call with Bradley Chapman Bleau, curator of the WooTown Funk exhibition


Brad Chapman Bleau is returning to Worcester after completing his Masters in Fine Arts program and is planning an autumn exhibition at Worcester State University’s Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery that will highlight a specific, vibrant side of the local art scene. Dubbed “WooTown Funk,” the show runs September 15 through October 13 and features the work of 11 local artists, including Bleau himself it can be used as a public space by local artists. The autumn exhibition will live up to its name and take an unconventional approach to exploring contemporary, somewhat surrealistic themes. Bleau sat down with Last Call to talk artist collecting, flea market inspiration and the importance of funk.

What is the inspiration behind the show’s name?

The reason we call it WooTown Funk is because their work is really funky, radical and uncompromising. We deal with subjects that are very human but immersed in this surrealistic world. There’s not necessarily a theme for this show, but this specific collective of artists has some contextual threads that run between all of us. The chaos of humanity, material culture, visual culture.

Tell me about the gallery. You say you want to give him more attention? is it new

It’s been around for 13 years, but it’s not affiliated with the art department on campus, so there’s a sort of separation. Also, it’s in WSU’s Science and Technology building, so that’s a bit odd. But it’s right on Chandler Street, so it’s one of the first places you see. What people don’t know is that this is a public art gallery—that it’s not just for WSU students and faculty. One of my goals was to get the word out that this is a truly beautiful gallery space open to the Worcester art community. I hope it will be known as “the dolphin”. Like “Have you heard about the event at the Dolphin?” or something like that.

Tell me a little bit about collecting the artists for the show?

I curated the show and it’s basically a collective of local artists I’ve come to know over the years, all with unique styles, perspectives and voices. I would like to present your work in a new space. This gallery is fairly unknown in the Worcester art scene and we wanted to spread the word that this is an option for artists. You see a lot of the same people on shows and it’s a close-knit group where we all support each other. I sort of picked my favorites, with styles that I thought would look good. So it’s a mixed bunch. Some I got to know through local shows in the area, shops in Worcester like CC Lowell – my studio is in the basement there – but also weekly art markets.

art markets?

They started last year and just took off. Local artisans set up outdoor stalls and you can walk around and shop. There is usually a food truck and music. CC Lowell has one in the parking lot during the summer, but StArt on the Street is another that draws thousands of people each year.

As an artist, do you have something there?

Yes, I’m participating. I’m not sure what I have there. My more recent work is related to material culture – I work with vintage objects and the association we have with them. The interpretation is open and leaves the context somewhat vague. It contains these very real, tangible objects from our past and allows viewers to make their own connections to these objects and make up their own story about what is happening in this piece.

How do you define material culture?

The culture created by the things we make and the nostalgia associated with those objects. I am a picker, a gatherer. I go to flea markets and I like to find the rough diamond, like vintage items that have a story. I just finished my Masters in Fine Arts from Goddard College in Vermont and that’s what my PhD was about.

How did you come to this type of art?

I skateboarded growing up and there’s a lot of funky, weird art that goes into skateboard graphics, and then I got into tattoo iconography, which led me to go to MassArt to do illustrations . At the intersection of junk collecting and art, some material culture comes into play.

What is something you have recently collected that you are excited about?

I went to the citywide flea market in Rutland last weekend and got some free old 90’s McDonald’s toys. This is a weird cartoon world they created and those images were stuck everywhere. Advertising was crazy back then. They put their label on everything they could and got people to buy more and more – it was hammered into society and created a universal imagery. We all understand something of it, even if we can’t talk about it in the same way.

What is your favorite piece that will be included?

I’m really obsessed with Nathan Clark Bentley’s work. I met him through the Fitchburg Art Museum – they have a regional arts and crafts show each year that is open to anyone who lives near Fitchburg. He won the grand prize two years ago, and part of the prize includes a solo exhibition next year. We met last year when one of my paintings was on display and we got to know each other. He just finished a new play that will be on the show a week or two ago and I’m really excited.

Are you from Worcester?

I grew up in Worcester County, grew up in Paxton but have spent all my time in Worcester. I went to Mass College of Art to do illustration and lived in Boston for about 6-8 years. When I came back here, I met some of the Worcester State staff who encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree. It’s like my first step in teaching. I’ve just finished three courses in the art department and I’m filling in for one of the professors on leave.


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