New Works by Chad Bohren Opening Reception September 15, 2017 6PM-9PM.
No visual trope demands more than the human image – and no trope is more used or abused. The faces and figures of men and women, girls and boys, whole bodies and damaged, living humans and skeletons abound in art, and never more so than now; but too few artists move beyond the ruts worn into the annals of art history by the propagandistic niceties of portraiture and the incessant drama of corporeal expression. Chad Bohren’s approach to corpus and visage alike, while brimming with references, even homages, to its predecessors, sustains the vitality we demand – even in depictions of the dead or never-lived – from a humanist perspective. Bohren’s presences are truly present.
Bohren is nothing if not an expressionist. But perhaps we ought to capitalize the label: he clearly understands what it means to be an Expressionist, following in the early 20th century Central European tradition. He also comprehends, without aping, the evolution of Expressionism across the last century. Its precursors, from Bosch to Ensor to Klimt, haunt Bohren’s work. More modern Expressionists such as Schiele, Meidner, and Rouault also figure in Bohren’s ancestry. And postwar manifestations of Expressionism such as CoBrA and the NO! group, freighted with rage and existential angst, prefigure his own dark yet vital images. Bohren derives from only some of these forerunners, but he shares in their common gene pool. Their gravitas is his. Their sardonic humor is his. Their sense of the monumental and of the mortal is his.
Myriad latter-day painters, trained or not, use the liberating principles of the Expressionist tradition to abjure pictorial responsibility: they indulge themselves in paint-flinging or divest their figure-centric pictures of any meaningful context. (Or both.) By contrast, Bohren makes sure his personages are optically front and center, confronting the eye directly as well as indirectly. He employs a virtuosic line and similarly deft and vigorous brush to conjure his people and quasi-people; this results in an economy of gesture, painted, drawn, or both, whose starkness heightens the sense of grotesque pageant. And he regards and invests his spirits (fleshed-out and otherwise) with an intricate pathos, one reliant equally on painterly gesture and the brittleness of the drawn line, that inspires the viewer to a range of emotions, from repulsion to pity to love.
For all its explosive energy, there is a powerful compositional imperative governing Bohren’s drawings and paintings. It seems imperative because its forms – the figures and other markings – settle into place (or, perhaps more accurately, erupt in place), poised dynamically against one another and, equally, against the gestures and notations that constitute their atmosphere. And it seems powerful because it draws energy off the figures themselves, their charged, brittle contours struggling against any hint of confinement. Ultimately, Bohren doesn’t compose his paintings and drawings so much as choreograph them. And he doesn’t so much go on his own nerve as go on the nerve of his apparitions. He seems to be finding them rather than inventing them, perhaps because, even at their most distorted, they maintain a psychological connection to “real” humanity. These humanoids may not exist in real life, but they want to.
Bohren’s debt to Expressionism makes him, literally and art-historically, a neo-Expressionist. For the past thirty-plus years this term has connoted the expansive, figure-centric work of artists around the globe who have gone in and out of fashion and in again. Some of them have become staple museum fodder; others, equally as gifted and committed, have established local berths. Bohren does not inherit from these two or three generations of such neo-Expressionists, he participates in and contributes to them.
His painting and (especially) drawing must be considered alongside that of Jean-Michel Basquiat or the Neue Wilde; he may have taken courage from their breakthroughs, but he takes his cues from the same earlier sources they have. He stands with the artists of the 1980s, not behind them.
Bohren’s dark wit and obsession with the theater of the human presence also links him, somewhat more distantly, to the similarly recent “lowbrow” phenomenon. Rather than capitulate to its cartoon-derived Pop-surrealist discourse, however, Bohren finds his “lowbrow” power in the loaded image itself. He stylizes his figures in a manner that undermines rather than depends on pictorial illustration. His passion manifests at least as much in his touch as in his imagery; his gesturality gives his apparitions their intensity and they, in turn, validate his painterliness. The virtuosity of such painterliness captures our attention as readily as do the images it helps bring to the surface. But Bohren’s work is no mere showcase for manual dexterity: it is a stage for human pathos.
Chad Bohren is at once an emerging talent and a throwback. He is also at once a singular artist and a synthesis of many artists who have preceded him. He looks like so many artists, you might say, but feels like none of them. It is obvious Bohren works out of necessity, propelled by a native force and an urgent but timeless vision, dependent on the historical arc of artistic expression rather than the tendentiousness of art-world attention. His art is more than himself, and more than the picture of pain: it is the recrudescence, powerful and inevitable, of art sprung from the gut.
Essay: The Human Conditions Peter Frank Los Angeles March 2017