David Rohn’s show, New Paintings, at the Putney School Gallery, is about to go into its final week, and it is definitely worth the trip up to the fine new gallery, housed in the Michael S. Currier Center. The gallery is one of the best places to look at art in the area, generously sky-lit and spacious.
Long known for his watercolor paintings, the surprise here is Rohn’s several paintings done in oils. “Chinese Bowl with Blue Counter” is, for me, the delight of the group. Rohn likes large, flat expanses of color, be it oil or watercolor. This can sometimes seem too generalized, as for example the large maroon folded piece of fabric in “Still Life with Sunglasses”. In “Chinese Bowl”, on the other hand, a large expanse of blue pigment (the counter) simultaneously conveys space, and creates an interesting abstract shape on the flat plane. This plays off the subtly molded folds of fabric behind it, beautifully painted, its printed floral design indicated with just enough detail. A deep blue shadow, coming from the blue and white bowl, adds a fillip of spacial and graphic interest as well.
“Grapes on Breadboard”, another oil, is filled with light, amplified by its placement – when I saw it, the painting had light pouring down on it from the skylight. There are areas of canvas left unpainted, other areas of dense black, and while it feels “on to something”, and has an appealingly light touch, the painting seems more a sketch than a finished work – perhaps it was meant as such.
“Silver, Violin, and Flowers” which greets visitors to the show, hanging on a wall just outside the gallery proper, is more thought-through and resolved. There is an élan to the handling of the oil paint here, and “Silver, Violin, and Flowers” is an attractive painting but for me does not have the excitement of “Chinese Bowl with Blue Counter”.
The one landscape in oil is “Highland Street”, not the usual kind of landscape — a paean to nature — but rather a paean to the comforts of life lived in proximity to one’s fellows, and everyday needs – town life. I’m assuming this is Highland Street in Brattleboro, with its stucco and wood-sided houses, road that rises steeply up hill. It is painted in flat blocks of color; a parked car takes up the lower left corner and is my favorite part of the painting, executed with a certain brio and bright pigment, refreshing in an otherwise muted palette.
Before we leave the land of oils, there is a small portrait, “Sher”, that is quite lovely, with half the face in shadow; nose, mouth, and chin are outlined in electric blue, light coming onto the face from the side away from the viewer. A quiet, poignant study, that made me want to know more about the subject.
Rohn is a master of watercolor, and to prove it we have “My Deck After Rain”, a departure from his many still-lifes, and as fresh as the air outdoors — after a summer rain. Entirely in pink and blue, the washes blend into one another without becoming the least bit muddy. Spacially, the deck is seen in sharp perspective, slats going back from foreground to the middle of the picture. Also in extreme perspective is the window of the house the deck is attached to. Tall, thin tree trunks in the foreground practically bisect the paper; a round table in the lower right quarter glistens with wetness; a potted plant sits in the middle of the deck and the picture. Unlike some of the very controlled watercolors in the show such as “Still Life with Yellow Bowl”, or “Still Life in Black and White” (this has a certain Morandi-like charm, creating its own little world), “My Deck After Rain” skirts chaos. Skirts it but does not succumb. If it were a dance, it would be a wild balletic improvisation that would end with a grand-jete landed perfectly.
Fortunately the space at the gallery is such that it allows for stepping back — since two of the watercolors, “Blue Still Life with Camera” and “Still Life with Yellow Bowl” stretch out horizontally maybe five feet. The first of these comes together more cohesively, in part because it is monochromatic, but also because of the gleefulness of the painting, and the gustiness of the task Rohn has set out for himself. There is perhaps too much unexploited (blue-tinged) paper in “Blue Still Life”. Nevertheless, a watercolor still life in cinemascope is a risky proposition and Rohn must be credited with guts and, served well by his dash with the paintbrush, manages to bring it off.
The Brattleboro Reformer