Drop into the Coppa coffeehouse at 917 Glacier Ave. this month and you’ll have a hard time not noticing walls saturated by the colorful work of Anchorage artist Debby Bloom. Bloom’s focus, like many of her Alaskan counterparts, is on the outdoors and nature, but in unique ways, utilizing a wide array of bright and vivid colors. She paints with acrylics and watercolors and her webpage probably says it best: “My work tends to represent an exaggerated and perhaps quirky view of our natural world.”
I spoke with Bloom late last week as she was preparing to make the trip to Juneau for the unveiling of her latest show at Coppa and in time for Juneau’s First Friday Art Walk. One only need speak with Bloom a short time to realize she is an articulate woman with a rich professional background as a writer and in public relations, including time spent working in both the Governor’s office as well as the private sector. She’s meticulous, sweats the details, and is a careful student of her craft and the business of art. It’s ironic that before taking up painting professionally, the one thing Bloom says she never envisioned was herself as a selling, showing artist. Seeing her work in Coppa is bound to raise the question, why not? She’s that good.
TK: For the folks who are not familiar with your work, can you please talk a little about your background and how you came to be an artist?
DB: I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and it was great. It was like winning the lottery to be able to grow up on the beach. But from the time I was young, I’ve always done artwork and been interested in Alaska. I think I was 12 and we had an 11-foot surfboard and it wasn’t really usable anymore and I said, “I think it looks like a totem pole.” Credit to my dad because he said, “Let’s go get some paint and we’ll paint it.” So I painted it to look like a totem pole and I thought it would eventually wash off with the rain, but it didn’t and it was in my parents’ backyard for 20 years…I must have had an inkling that Alaska would be an interesting place because later on in college, I studied anthropology with an emphasis on Alaska Native culture…I moved up to Juneau in 1979 and my first job there was at the Alaska State Museum. I spent 10 years in Juneau, but quickly went over to work for the Legislature.
TK: Tell me how and when you made the jump into art.
DB: Some friends of mine from years ago in Juneau said, “You need to paint full time,” and I laughed. They said, “Let’s set you up for a First Friday. It will be like a fundraiser, but featuring your art.” So I had my first, First Friday about four years ago.
TK: And how did that first show work out for you?
DB: I was surprised, because at that First Friday, I sold nine paintings in three hours. I thought, OK, people actually do want to open their pocketbooks to buy these things and some of them were people I didn’t know…After that I thought, well, maybe there’s something here. Maybe I should look at doing this more seriously.
TK: So you’ve been painting regularly since then?
DB: Yes, I’ve still dabbled in PR contract work and applied for various jobs, but didn’t get them and decided, OK, I need to give up on this (public relations) because it really isn’t happening.
TK: Let’s talk about the fun stuff, like your work. I was really struck by how your paintings capture the wildness and grandeur of Alaska, but through the use of bright colors.
DB: I think a lot of that is due to my having been raised at the beach and now I live in a place that has a seven-month winter and at times can seem dark and dingy… I thought I’m going to throw in colors in nature that aren’t really there. Throw some paint at these things and make them bright because people need some brightness on their walls. I need brightness on my walls… Alaskans endure a lot of the extremes. We’re inside a lot, it’s darker during the winter and I thought the least we can do is add some splash of colors inside. I started looking at trees a little differently. I thought, you know, I paint a lot of trees but there really isn’t blue in bark and there isn’t a florescent green and there isn’t red, but there is in my paintings and it works. I’ll do the same thing with bears and otters… As a painter, I have fun with colors.
TK: When you look at how your life has played out to this point, do you ever find yourself wishing you had started pursuing your art as a professional sooner or did it happen for you at just the right time?
DB: I think that people go through transitions, some are planned and some aren’t. I never imagined that this kind of passion I have for painting could be a way for me to earn a living, something that I don’t have to retire from. As long as I can see and use my arms, I can paint. That makes me very happy. Did I dream that someday I would be an artist and show my work? Never. As a PR gal I feel really confident knowing about events and event planning. I’ve always been comfortable being behind the scenes, imaging, branding, figuring out ways for an organization or a person to engage with the public. But art has put me out in front and that’s very awkward for me… I feel very fortunate and grateful that people have been willing to open up their wallets and want some of my work on their walls.
To see more of Debby Bloom’s work and to learn more about the artist go to www.debbybloom.com.
Thomas Kellar is a freelance writer living in Juneau.