Jerry Bleem, an artist, teacher, writer, Franciscan friar and Catholic priest, earned his M.F.A. at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his M.Div. from the Catholic Theological Union at Chicago. He glues insect wings to glass to create beautiful vessels, uses staples to make sculptures and he crochets to make political statements.
As an artist, Bleem examines the cultural construction of meaning by looking at what we discard and by transforming the nonprecious through time-intensive accumulation. His work serves to highlight the relationship between value and identity, and to consider assumed ideals. The resulting work–both 2- and 3-dimensional surfaces–mines topics ranging from apprehension to beauty, ecology to politics.
The Illinois Arts Council has recognized his work with five individual artist fellowships. Bleem has also been awarded an Arts Midwest/NEA Regional Visual Arts Fellowship and numerous residencies including the Roswell Artist-in-Residence grant.
Bleem has taught in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 2000. During the 2008-9 academic year, Arizona State University named him a visiting professor in its School of Art. His interests span historic and ethnographic textiles, the dynamics of collecting for artistic production, and material culture from popular and denominational religion.
In his writing, Bleem investigates the intersection of art and religion in a monthly column for U. S. Catholic magazine; his articles have also appeared in SDA Journal, Fiberarts and exhibition catalogs.
As the news media report on the United States' presence in Iraq, they present us with two kinds of stories: those that deal with the formulation and implementation of national policy, and those that report on individuals whose lives have been altered by this conflict. These two sets of stories seem to exist apart from each other; the connections between private tragedies and national strategies remain relatively unexplored.
His Nationalism series examines the link between the U.S.A.'s course of action and the lives of its citizens. He chooses nation's banner, the flag, as his primary material which he cut into thin strips.
“…Then I rely upon crochet to reconfigure the familiar surface into an unfamiliar, abstracted one and to elicit associations with the grandmothers of our lives quintessential providers of comfort and safety.”
“Cutting up the flag aligns my work with those who have used the flag to express their opposition to national policies. Though clearly not treating the Stars and Stripes in a traditional or widely acceptable manner, desecrating the flag is not my goal. I see the time spent slicing and crocheting as a way to make my thinking physical. This work allows me to mull over patriotism, allegiance to my country, the implication of "indivisible" and "with liberty and justice for all."
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