The Minutes and the Months, Nicholas Bohac
Landscape artists and sculptors generally have one thing in common despite their different mediums, and that is space. They either make us more aware of the space we live in or fill it up with objects that make it more livable. Much artwork from both is mostly representational, figurative or merely decorative. Less mainstream is the contemporary artist who treats said space conceptually and makes it an integral part of the finished work or installation. The result can be art that occupies not only its resting place on wall or pedestal, but that space between our ears where significant 2D and 3D work lives long after leaving our sight. Such is the impact of the two-person exhibit in the Bemis Underground organized by curator Joel Damon. Nothing and Everything at Once , which continues through May 28, features mixed media and paintings of Nicholas Bohac and ceramic sculpture from Mike Roche. Bohac, an Omaha native, now lives and works in San Francisco. Originally from Boston, Roche is currently an assistant to ceramicist Jun Kaneko. This is a very busy show with 160 new works from Bohac and Roche. Yet, anyone familiar with the Underground’s organic, asymmetrical spaces that rotate and flow around its hub and into corners, will not find the large quantity of art competing for attention, or counter productive. Smaller works of Bohac support his 10 larger canvasses; and Roche’s wall slabs enjoy an interesting conversation with his larger structures on bases or floor. The exhibit’s statement says the thematic connection between the artists is similar to the Japanese concept of “ma,” an awareness of place, of objects and non-objects alike. “The space between trees is equally important as the entire forest. Space is substance.” In their artist statements Bohac and Roche interpret “ma” in terms of humankind’s spatial and philosophical relationship with the environment it occupies and creates. Bohac says his “fantastical landscapes” which continue to favor northern climes and an artic scene “fuse the natural world to the human world.” Overall, his seasonal, sweeping vistas of mountains, glaciers, sea and fjord, man and manmade intervention, are alternately mythical and apocalyptic. “Humanity has a hand in impacting nature,” he says. “The question is whether we drive and control nature, or it in turn controls us.” Roche’s vision concerns itself more with meaningful and constructive coexistence. His work is representational at times, but like Bohac, quantifiable realism is only a small part of the equation. “I consider myself to be a maker of surrealist objects and environments. My work is inspired by the many macro and microcosms we experience.” Additional disciplines have influenced their vision and helped to lay the groundwork for viewer appreciation. Historic references, current events and scientific evidence inform Bohac’s foreboding narratives to where the imagery resembles scenes from Werner Herzog’s compelling documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, which the artist acknowledged he watched “over and over while creating this work.” Roche’s various ceramic structures and slab drawings resemble the findings of an anthropologist as the artist admits to “digging deeper and going beyond the surface, while at the same time seeing a bigger picture.” Not bad advice for an exhibit this cerebral, since its visual element lives up to its underlying intent. Of the 10 medium and large canvases by Bohac, his signature pieces, Hummingbird Wars and The Minutes and the Months , anchor the west wall in two seasonal extremes whatever else they symbolize in space and time. In the former we have an idyllic summer paradise, a fjord created by a one-time melting glacier complete with flora and fauna. This Garden of Eden with its purple mountains majesty and waterfall is more mythic than real as it prefigures the Dawn of Man . In the latter work more than the season has altered as we see early signs of climate change: a giant iceberg calving smaller ones in warming seas — not to mention the dozens floating on the walls between major works — a perceived hole in the ozone layer and clouds of pollution and acid rain. Speculative perhaps, yet there’s no denying the developing presence of man in Bohac’s vision of paradise lost. In Fjord Fiesta tourists camp out beneath a slime- green sky melting on a chopped off mountaintop. No Grand Teton this, it features the same man-made rainbow pattern as the roads they ventured in on, seeking their pot of gold. Bohac’s prognostication sharpens satirically with the humorous Rollerberg where we paved paradise and put up an amusement park on a larger iceberg. More ominous are his Stripped and Stripped Down, two icy barren landscapes that feature more topless mountains and the aftermath of strip mining. Though these images resemble similar scenarios in West Virginia and Kentucky, more telling is the latter with its glacier melted away. Most disarming is the inherent beauty of Bohac’s aesthetic of colorful striation and an animated, dynamic composition and style that mixes Fractal Art with the cut paper method of Korean artist Seo. Bohac’s virtual neon palette and energized, vivid images almost forgive their foreboding narratives and commentary. Roche’s contribution is not nearly as complicated, and therein lays its beauty and wisdom. His minimalist style creates work that is more intuitive and suggestive. Incomplete pieces, remnants and representational hybrids compose a kind of visual and verbal poetry which requires one to fill in the spaces and missing details the way one has to read between the lines, or hear what’s left unsaid in order to decipher meaning. While his ceramic Slab Drawings reinforce several larger works, it’s his totemic Homesteads that reference a Tolkien netherworld, his lattice and waffle-like Structures and archaic tunnels, bridges, viaducts and aqueducts that invite the most curiosity and appreciation. This is probably so for their austere (representational objects), august (large structures) and figurative (homesteads) beauty. One vacillates between imagining these pieces as remnants of ancient civilizations from this or other worlds, or even as signposts transporting one back into time via fantasy, or forward via science fiction as with Stanley Kubrick’s tall black obelisk did in 2001: A Space Odyssey . When it comes to one’s imagination, it’s virtually impossible to separate the concepts of time and space. Roche is not without a satiric sense of humor also. A real crowd pleaser opening night was his playful Train Station , a large train engine dead in its tracks and morphed into a tray table. It seems the things we create to fill both time and space are either repurposed or end up in landfills. Space and time are the only real substance because in the end they are all that will remain. What one makes of them is what really matters. Nothing and Everything at Once continues through May 28 at the Bemis Underground, 724 South 12th Street. For details go to bemiscenter.org.