If you think you lack time or inspiration, visit Jeff Bohlander’s classroom at Urbana High or the NOMA Gallery in Downtown Frederick. A prolific artist and dynamic educator, Bohlander presides over a high-tech Mac computer graphics and photography lab by day and a home studio by night. Bohlander is a partner at the NOMA co-op, 437 N. Market St., and he has pieces in every NOMA show and a solo show there annually.
“I am known for collage and mixed media, but consider myself a painter,” Bohlander said. “Curiosity, wanting to learn, comes across in my work. … It has a design sense and brings together all my interests.”
With a degree in illustration and graphic design from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Bohlander initially did freelance illustration for magazines and newspapers. “Sometimes work is tailored to a client’s needs. It’s like comparing writing for editorial purposes and writing a novel,” he said. At the time, he was also painting portraits, and this segued into collage, mixed media and assemblage.
He began his career as an educator by teaching illustration at MICA. He was later asked to do a show at Frederick Community College (FCC) and then to teach there as an adjunct professor. This led him into secondary education at Walkersville, where he piloted a digital photography program; at Thomas Johnson, where he taught in an arts academy; and currently at Urbana, where he teaches the full art curriculum except ceramics—Yearbook, Journalism, Computer Graphics, Digital Photography, Drawing and Painting.
Bohlander said that not many art teachers at the high school level and below are working artists. He crossed over. “I became a teacher because of my love of art. The reason I’m a teacher is because of art—my passion for art came first,” he said, adding that the starving artist is a myth. Bohlander loves to get kids into art, and many of his students go on to careers as artists and stay in touch with him.
“Being an artist informs my teaching, keeps me up to date in the contemporary art world,” he said. He has created a vast collection of various media that he uses for student demos as well as a college prep portfolio development class for FCPS high school students that he taught during the summer at FCC.
Bohlander revealed that his own work “is often about memories; it evokes a deep love of history and a sense of space and place, family and heritage. It is narrative in nature, but what I want most is that it initiates a dialogue with the viewer—that it forces the viewer to engage and allow his/her own history to be reflected in it.”
His pieces incorporate vintage photos, a neutral color palette, lots of white negative space for the eye to rest and a linear look. They force the viewer to relate to them and formulate their own conclusions as to what is being said and portrayed.
A deeply thoughtful and emotional artist, Bohlander conveys feelings through his choice of media and application of images—young children, journeys, childhood, pathways, found objects, newsprint and photographs. Through arrangement, color, texture, line and brush stroke, Bohlander creates a world in each piece that suggests something different each time it is viewed. “The visual language we all share triggers experience. Some images create immediate reaction for the viewer,” Bohlander said. “No two individuals will react the same way to the same thing.”
He spent some years with his children while they were young, doing family things and coaching soccer, and he treasured this time. But “if you’re an artist, you need to get back into doing it!” he said.
NOMA has given him the impetus. “Since I’ve joined NOMA, I’ve tried to only show new work or that done within the past year. It has gotten me back into the studio,” he said.
Bohlander is currently experimenting with photo silk screening, photo transfers and experiments in photography in addition to larger and more painterly works. He has leaned more toward letting work evolve over the past year, becoming more abstract without the need for representational elements.
One of the keys to keeping him fresh as an artist is his curiosity and willingness to fail, Bohlander revealed. “A friend called my work a combination of constructivism, expressionism and Dadaism,” he said, laughing.
Bohlander will have a solo exhibit, “The Sympathy of Things,” at the Delaplaine Feb. 2 through 24, 2019. An artist’s reception is planned for Feb. 2, 2019, 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.jeffbohlander.net and www.nomagalleryfrederick.com/jeff-bohlander.