ARTIST PROFILE Painter David Rohn likes what he does
It has been an artist's journey for Rohn before reaching what he described as now a relaxed and less pressured work environment.
He grew up in Ludington, Mich. Always good at drawing and cartooning, he began using watercolors as a teenager. He went on to art school at the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Design. With a master's degree in hand and stars in his eyes of becoming a famous and successful artist he headed to New York City, as all serious artists did in the '60s. Admittedly it was a struggle, from teaching art in after-school classes to making puppets in order to make ends meet while continuing to work on his art, garnering a couple of shows including his etchings that were represented in two galleries. He was influenced by the people he hung with and whatever his career requested of him, always with an eye on becoming famous. He took a few detours along the way spending some time in Guadalajara, Mexico, etching the scenes there, some of which still hang in New York City, and he went to France because he liked the way they live there. One of the watercolors in the Mitchell Giddings exhibit is from a visit there — a view of the Old Port of Marseilles.
Then he was hired by Walter Hendricks as a one-man art department at Windham College in Putney. He ran an energetic art department for 12 years in what he deemed an excellent college until 1976 when it closed. Enrollment declined as the influx of baby boomers aged out and the Vietnam War had ended, reducing the number of young people opting for college rather than war, and the college couldn't sustain the expanded campus built to accommodate earlier enrollment numbers.
After that, he moved back to New York commuting by train to teach at Drew University. He did that for quite a few years in an adjunct position so he would have time to work on his painting that was now evolving into large abstract oil. He returned to Putney in the summers to his house on Main Street and a studio in the woods. Eventually, he built a house next to his woodland studio where he lives now. He had his first show of his watercolors in 1977. He kept himself busy and employed doing a variety of things including commission work, he taught at National Academy of Design, and Queens College, served as director of the summer program at Caumsett State Park, and was honored with a grant in 1989 from National Endowment for the Arts. He regularly held a featured gallery at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, all the while still chasing that elusive fame.
At one point he said to himself, "I'm not doing this anymore, trying to 'make it.' So I closed up my studio and box of oil paints and went strictly to watercolors." He instead did things he enjoyed doing like drawing and went back to watercolors. It was therapeutic.
In the one and only yoga class he ever attended the session ended with 10-minute meditation. In his meditative state he realized that what he was doing was no longer competitive, now that feeling of being pressured to "make it" was gone. He said, "I was more relaxed. I have pretty successful ever since and began turning out a lot more work. That's what you'll see in this show." He continued, "My need to be Beethoven still tugs at me, but I make a careful living now. My yacht is a small yacht. I have no debts." Plus, he has a long list of gallery shows on his resume to date.
He said, "Over the years, I think I'm doing the same thing, only deeper."
Rohn is also infinitely proud of his children. "I have the most remarkable children," he said. One daughter went to UVM and is now a serious and successful poet with audiences and a devoted following; My son in Madison Wisc., has a disco cover band and has written musicals, one of which played for three months off Broadway, "Wal-Martopia." Another daughter, 12 years a Professor of Drama in Bennington College, rated one of the top drama schools in the country, and another is a pianist in Martha's Vineyard.
He gave a talk at Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts last Saturday, surrounded by his paintings, about "looking at paintings." Photographs of those watercolors may be viewed on mitchellgiddingsfinearts.com, and the YouTube video of Saturday's talk is planned to be posted, so keep checking.
Rohn's oil paintings "Views and Perspectives, " are also on exhibit at Next Stage, 15 Kimball Hill, Putney, hanging there until May. They are open to viewing when Next Stage has events at the theater. For more information on times call 802-387-0102.
When asked if he had any advice for a young artist starting out he said, "Hang with energetic artists and get yourself out there. Have companions for friendly competition — stay in the life." He thought for a moment longer then added, "Keep what you had going in school — keep the ferment of creativity and don't withdraw." He likened it to advice one might give to a downhill skier — relax into it, recline into it. "There's always the next painting."
When asked what he is doing with his time these days he simply replied, "Painting."
In today's highly charged political atmosphere it is comforting to get away and feel soothed by the use of light, shadow, and color on randomly placed yet familiar objects. Be sure to check out "David Rohn Watercolors: 1974-2016," on view through April 30 at Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts, 183 Main St., Brattleboro. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Monday. For more information call 802-251-8290.
Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261
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