Sculptor, 90, loves the way art is open to interpretation

Blood leans against one of his sculptures, displayed in his Regent St. home, and laughs at one of his own jokes. Photo by Rebecca IsenhartBlood leans against one of his sculptures, displayed in his Regent St. home, and laughs at one of his own jokes. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
Blood leans against one of his sculptures, displayed in his Regent St. home, and laughs at one of his own jokes. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

Blood leans against one of his sculptures, displayed in his Regent St. home, and laughs at one of his own jokes. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

By REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Sculptor Robert Blood has been a full-time, professional artist for most of his life, and he loves it.

It’s not surprising then that he surrounds himself with his creations. His petite home on Regent Street in Niskayuna, which his father built in 1918, is practically a gallery in itself.

Larger-than-life abstract pieces on pedestals interrupt the view from the front windows, and smaller pieces rest on the mantle and hang from a free-standing display. There are 15 sculptures in the guest room, lit by museum-style spotlights and a skylight in the ceiling.

But visitors don’t even need to go inside to admire Blood’s work. His lawn is dotted with abstract creations taller than he is.

The sculptures on his lawn have piqued the interest of many neighbors, including Aliza Mesbahi.

Mesbahi grew up in Niskayuna, but she and her husband, Embarek, moved to the neighborhood about a dozen years ago. After moving in around the corner from Blood, they wondered about the lawn full of expressive metal structures. It wasn’t until her husband bought one of Blood’s pieces that they were inspired to introduce themselves to their neighbor.

That was six or seven years ago, Mesbahi guessed, and they’ve been friends ever since.

Now, she and her husband, who own a storefront on Jay Street in Schenectady, sell Blood’s work regularly. On weekends, Blood often comes to the shop to meet customers. The couple loves his company.

“You can’t help but love him when you meet him,” Mesbahi said.

Blood holds a maquette, or scale model, of an abstract work. Nearby, a sculpture of his son and his son's first wife rests on a shelf. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

Blood holds a maquette, or scale model, of an abstract work. Nearby, a sculpture of his son and his son’s first wife rests on a shelf. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

Youthful energy

It’s true. Blood is 90, hard of hearing and walks with a cane, but he radiates curiosity and youthful energy.

When he’s watching someone admire his work for the first time, it’s clear he doesn’t miss a detail. He encourages touching and a 360 degree walk around each piece. The interaction between human and art fascinates him.

“That’s the whole thing about sculpture,” he said. “It’s not a billboard where you see it at 40 miles per hour.”

Before he’ll reveal what he was thinking when he built a sculpture, he asks what others see in it.

“I learn a lot from people who say, ‘I don’t know a lot about sculpture,’ and then they make an observation I hadn’t thought of,” he said.

That’s true everywhere, not just in his front yard. He was commissioned to make a custom sculpture for a local Jewish community group and, after it was completed, he invited other people to interpret it for themselves.

One rabbi saw a sacrificial ram, and a friend saw a chorus of singers. Blood had intended to create a tree.

“People see a variety of things in organic abstraction, and that’s good,” he said.

One of his favorites is “The Three Fates,” and it’s a bit less ambiguous than some others. Towering over smaller creations on his front lawn, “The Three Fates” looks distinctly like three figures leaning in conspiratorially. The suggestion is somehow there even though he took abstract liberties, like leaving an arm off one of the figures.

Behind the house hides a more delicate sculpture, made of treated copper plates stitched together with silver-toned wire. It’s called “Suspended Figure.”

“Some think it’s falling,” Blood said. “That’s all right. At least they have an opinion.”

Smaller, lighter creations are standard for Blood ever since he fell from his roof and badly injured his back more than a decade ago.

He’s also begun to lay clay over his metal armatures, or frames, rather than wax. He prefers wax, but it dries faster than he can work now, as he approaches his 91st birthday.

Blood also says he’s run short of inspiration as he has aged.

“It just poured out of me,” he said, recalling his most productive artistic years. “Now I’m all poured out. I’m an empty vessel.”

You’d hardly be able to tell he’s lacking inspiration, as he pulls plastic sheeting off rows and rows of clay figures striking various poses. Each has a personality; many have their origins in a model or a memory.

For someone who has supposedly become slow and uninspired, Blood produces a lot of art.

“He doesn’t watch a lot of TV,” Mesbahi said jokingly.

Even though Blood still creates almost constantly, Mesbahi said it’s clear to her that he worries about his legacy.

One of his sculptures sits outside miSci, formerly the Schenectady Museum. Blood lived there for seven years as a resident artist, with his late wife and his son, Peter, who was just a year old when they moved in. The location is as meaningful to him as the artwork.

He frets about that sculpture. The grass around it might be too tall for people to get the full effect, he said, and he can’t be sure it’s kept dry and maintained.

“He’s concerned that his pieces need to be coated once a year and people aren’t doing it,” Mesbahi said.

"Joyous Chrysalis," one of numerous chrysalis-inspired sculptures, is the one Blood thinks represents him best. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

“Joyous Chrysalis,” one of numerous chrysalis-inspired sculptures, is the one Blood thinks represents him best. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

Nervous energy

It’s not just his art. Blood worries about everything: women’s rights, the environment, a lengthy list of enormous topics. Sometimes, without warning, he becomes very serious and starts to list his worries before switching quickly back to lightheartedness.

He comes by the anxiety honestly.

“Twenty years ago, I’d be all over the place,” he said. “I had my mother’s nervous energy.

“Now I’m just nervous,” he added.

All those anxieties appear to melt when Blood watches a visitor admire his work for the first time.

“Does it seem joyous?” he asked as I stepped back to consider “Joyous Chrysalis,” a sculpture that looked, to me, like the outline of a person doing a handstand.

Actually, Blood had based it on a model sitting in a chair and holding her leg in the air, not a person standing on her hands.

Either way, somehow, the irregular geometric figure in the corner of Blood’s living room is undeniably joyous.

Of all his sculptures, he said, that one is most him.

Blood’s work is available for sale at Promenade Gallery, 138 Jay St., Schenectady, which will open an exhibit from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14. Blood will have an open house at his home/studio/gallery, 1218 Regent St., from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 15 and 16.

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.