Friday, May 6, 2011

David Rohrer at Cafe Rustica

Few artists are more confident than David Rohrer.  His slashing attack is invigorating amidst reposeful surroundings, but has the staying-power to be appreciated in a cafe or restaurant.

Diners at Cafe Rustica can avail themselves of such staying-power by just sitting at a booth.  Propped on a sill above them is a small painting; some lucky patrons get two.  For people who are familiar with Rohrer's work, these pochades - which Rohrer seems to have done in a frenzied half-hour - are of a piece.  They mirror, complement, and, hopefully, foreshadow, larger paintings of similar subjects.  This is not to say that they have to have sequels.  They're perfectly all right by themselves and needn't lead to other things.  I'd rather they did because I'm curious about how they might change as they leaped from one format to another.  Transformation on the picture-plane is a fascinating business, in part because it cannot always be explained.

Rohrer lives on a South Side of spacious lawns, commmunity-minded people, and (mostly) dogs that will sit quietly while you go in for your latte.  His South Side is agreeably sunny and good for an afternoon or evening stroll.  Its fences are mended, its gutters cleaned, and its mortgage payments are mailed on the first of every month.  It is the place of good abode that isn't as common as one might think.  It takes a certain amount of vigilance to make it work.  It is an old-fashioned-looking place that's held together with caulk, carpenter's nails, and values even our Republican friends might consider worthwhile.  This is not say there aren't snags, but people see them and try to iron them out. 

Rohrer's houses - which recent owners seem to have re-habbed overnight - have a big spirit even in miniature.  (I don't think any of these paintings are more than two feet square.)  They're slathered with his characteristic impasto, they're warmly colored, and they sing.  His people browse an open market, not as individuals, but en masse.  They're a community and are comfortable that way.  Spatial intimacies occur in the relationships between fence and yard, street and sidewalk, but they are, for the most part, abstract.  David Rohrer's world is defined, contained, and intensified, by observation - which is the touchstone of his inspiration.

Yet: there is a disturbing aura to Rohrer's late-at-night imagery, as if the setting sun has re-vitalized him and set him on a new path.  One of his most striking images is of a VCU parking garage at sunset.  Its big forms lean into the corals and lemon yellows that are dying out in the western sky.  Rushing back to the South Side, he gives us a duel of street-lamps above an intersection at five a.m.  Here, Rohrer's treatment is as wildly unrestrained as it ever gets and it's absolutely mesmerizing.

If a guy can hold your attention at a glance, think of what he can do on a canvas you can walk away from as it fills a room.  Can a great experience be extended by "making something bigger"?  Or should we be skeptical of enormous canvases that can often betray the promise a smaller work might suggest?  Perhaps we should.  Rohrer has shown us that no painter need shrink his vision down unless there isn't any vision to begin with.  These small paintings do what all paintings should do: introduce us to an essential personality that can range freely across space and time. 

Incidentally, these paintings are absurdly inexpensive.  And they're of things you may have thought you knew - and might know very well as you know them.  But you don't know them the way Rohrer does - and that is his gift to you, me, and everybody.

Cafe Rustica is at 414 East Main Street in Downtown Richmond, Virginia. 

The show will be up through June 20th.

More work can be found at:

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