Artist Duo Turn Ceramic Figurines Into ‘Photo Tableaux’
By Art Bodner
One half of the artist duo behind the moniker BLECHMEKI is Max Blechman, pictured above. Blechman and husband Kazu Umeki have amassed a collection of ceramic figurines that fills their Castro Street home.
Passersby of a certain Castro Street home in Upper Noe Valley might never guess it houses a world-class collection of vintage American pottery.
Inside, homeowners Max Blechman and Kazu Umeki—also known by their business moniker BLECHMEKI—live their lives surrounded by colorful ceramics, and use the pieces to create geometric photo art that can appear as optical illusions.
Max Blechman relaxes in the home he shares with husband and artist Kazu Umeki and the decorative objects he began collecting in the 1980s.
“When a person looks at our photo tableaux, I want them to be thinking, What is that?” Blechman said.
This month and next, you can marvel at both the images and the objects at an exhibit at Art House SF gallery at 2324 Market St. (arthousesf.com).
Blechman has been collecting the largely pastel figures since the early 1980s, when he moved from New York to San Francisco. Frequenting Bay Area flea markets, he bought the pieces that had first caught his eye in a curio shop in Greenwich Village.
Not only was he drawn to their look, he liked the way they felt—smooth and silky. Of course, it helped that they were relatively inexpensive.
Little by little, piece by piece, the collection grew, and Blechman started to organize his finds by form and color. He appreciated the fact that if one piece was pleasing, the aesthetic could be even more enhanced if like figures were organized into patterns.
“If three similar pieces looked good together, then 10 together looked even better,” he said.
His mother may have held a different view, he said, recalling her telling him on one visit, “Max, I think you have collected enough.
Clearly he had not. The collection now stands at over 10,000 pieces, rep- resenting more than 20 American manufacturers, among them Bauer, Metlox, Shawnee, West Coast, Catalina, Camark, Pacific, Royal Haeger, and Weller. Mostly figurines—birds, deer, fish, bears, frogs, elephants, horses, seashells, and sailboats—the pieces date from the 1930s through the ’80s, with the lion’s share from the 1950s and ’60s.
Sometime back, Blechman and Umeki, who met in 2008 (and married when it became legal in 2013), grouped the pieces to spell out the words “Happy Birthday.” They then snapped a photo and made the result into a card for a friend. The next stage of the collection was born.
Blechman, a photographer in his own right, and Umeki, who has a background in design, started organizing pieces into interesting patterns, photographing them, and turning them into art prints of various sizes.
In 2012, they formed BLECHMEKI, offering their prints and stationery for sale. Today, their art can be found everywhere, from small galleries to downtown office buildings to the homes of private collectors.
“You look around, and so much of the world is in chaos, and in a small way—by bringing all of these pieces of pottery together—I’m fighting entropy, and hopefully fighting chaos,” Blechman said.
Just as impressive as the size of the ceramic collection is the way it is seamlessly integrated into the couple’s home, on shelves and mantels lining the walls of almost every room in the house.
Should they need a centerpiece for the table, there are nine shelves of ceramics in the dining room—with everything from horses and rabbits to pitchers and pyramids.
No, Blechman is not worried about earthquakes—although he gets that question a lot. Each display shelf has a lip, and the front-row pieces are secured with a dab of putty.
Neither is Tabi the cat a threat to the breakable collection. She seems to consider the pieces her pals and is protective of them, Blechman said. She’s never broken a single one.
Reprinted from the original article in The Noe Valley Voice.
By Art Bodner - Published in June, 2022.