Traversing the past and present, Jeff Bohlander’s current solo exhibit at the Delaplaine Arts Center is a melting pot of nostalgia, memories, reminiscing, discovery and maybe melancholy. His aim is to tell a story and initiate a dialogue with the viewer. These works, all done over the past 14 months, are true to this path. Of course, it will not be the same tale for all.
The art, computer graphics and photography teacher at Urbana High School considers himself a painter, one who combines painting, collage and assemblage with contemporary concepts. Bohlander’s style is recognizable and his layered technique crosses multiple media—collage, ephemera, drawings, lino cut, prints, transfers, photos, found objects, wax, paint, stencil, spray paint, silkscreen and assemblage.
There is progression and continuity. It seems contradictory to classify the work as mixed media. He touches the abstract, explores it, but a narrative component still flows through his choice of pattern, words and imagery. The application of wax is a somewhat new technique which reminds me of a kind of sealing of ideas—the wax and random applications of paint, particularly white, seem an aggressive flourish, a signature.
A continuing theme of a black-and-white male face in many of his expansive statement pieces is intriguing—a boy on a bicycle, a young man, one slightly older. “He represents Everyman,” Bohlander explained. I use it to get across certain concepts. It represents anybody … could be me or the viewer.” Bohlander usually begins with an idea of where he wants to go, but the process is often intuitive and leads him into unexpected territory. His work obscures straightforward narrative and merges imagery to convey a story, portray an emotion or thought or unravel an idea. I found myself relating personally to the pieces of each puzzle—childhood, adolescence, the past, images and objects not seen in years eliciting memories like pattern books, Ferris wheels, advertisements, vintage photos.
Teaching and creating his own art are a back-and-forth flow in Bohlander’s life. He teaches collage workshops with students. I “show them lots of techniques—transfers, silk screening, lino cuts. I’ve showed them lots of stuff that is in my work. We also do found object sculptures. I definitely incorporate my work into my teaching—maybe not all techniques together, but pieces so students create their own unique voice as artists.”
His shadow boxes or curiosity cabinets feature youthful themes prominently with neutral colors, vintage papers, found objects, old photos, and even what I termed “cleaning out the garage” items— chicken feeder parts, plumbing pipes and vintage glass. Many pieces are orderly and incorporate technical drawings that hearken back to his early career as an editorial illustrator. “I learned about so much that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I was involved in a wide range of articles,” he said. An elongated rectangular piece starring a giant squid is an enlargement of a preliminary drawing he did many years ago for an article in Popular Science magazine.
Clearly, facets of his career are enveloped into his art. My favorites are “Lightning Rod,” bright with sunny yellow illuminated more so by its place near a window, and “What the Rains Expose,” the blues and touches of seafoam green remind me of doorways on Greek islands.
Frequently a jumbled pathway is actually a clearly mapped out destination on the way to making sense out of an insane world. Images often seen as incongruous evolve into a symbiotic relationship. Bohlander creates in a deeply personal way out of memories, a deep love of history, sense of space and place, family and heritage. His next work always speaks the loudest, he said—focused on experimenting and pushing his comfort zone. Find your way to the Delaplaine to experience “The Sympathy of Things” on view until Feb. 24.