“If you can do a painting in 5 strokes, you can make it sing!”

Tyrus Wong

“Color is a plastic means of creating intervals… color harmonics produced by special relationships, or tensions. We differentiate now between formal tensions and color tensions, just as we differentiate in music between counterpoint and harmony.”

Hans Hofmann

Two theories from very different influences that reveal the beguiling complexity of artist Christian Rothmann’s current exhibit, Circles on the Move, on display at the Garden of the Zodiac gallery in the Old Market until July 1.

Berliner Rothmann’s past work, a mix of “flower power” paintings and “moving picture” photos has graced the Metro arts scene for nearly two decades. His current exhibition, arguably his most sophisticated seen to date in this region, puts his own painterly spin and mark on the traditions expressed above.

Wong, a relatively unknown Chinese-born American artist who died at the age of 106, was a painter, animator, calligrapher, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer and kite maker, as well as a set designer and storyboard artist. Conversely, Hofmann(1880-1966)’ a pivotal figure in Abstract Expressionism stands as one of the most important painters of post-war American art.

Whether as art director for Disney’s film “Bambi” or exhibiting with the L.A. group “Occidentals”, Wong was one of the first to infuse Asian aesthetics in American modern art, animation and design. His calligraphic brushwork, virtually eliminating all but the essential details in his fine art, lent a quiet, minimalistic beauty to both his figurative and impressionistic drawings and paintings.

Nature was the origin of art, Hofmann believed, and no matter how abstract his pictures seemed to become, he always sought to maintain in them a link to the world of objects. Even when his canvases seemed to be only collections of forms and colors, Hofmann argued that they still contained the suggestion of movement – and movement was the pulse of nature.

To suggest depth and movement in the picture, Hofmann influenced artists to create what he called “push and pull” in the image by creating contrasts of color, form, and texture.

“Minimalism, strokes and calligraphy.” “Nature, color, form, tension and movement.” No wonder then that Rothmann titled his recent exploration of this complex aesthetic accordingly .By combining these two diverse impacts, he has created a “push/pull” of his own on each of the paintings and watercolors on display, whether shown individually or in wall installations.

From his most grandiose gestural work, the titular, large scale oil “Circles on the Move” to the quieter watercolor series “Philippines”, regardless of scale, each piece effectively contrasts the merest suggestion of a botanical or orbital with its bold assertion for space and attention.

The optimism, the spirit, the lively tints, tones and pigments are what bond or stamp Rothmann’s art and point of view. This is the artist that the Metro knows. Yet, though his colorful aesthetic may bond his work, it does not bind it. This is part of what’s new in this exhibit; motion drives his evolution.

Rothmann says “I have always been a happy painter,” drawn to bold, effusive color, bright Mediterranean light and above all, nature. Patrons and viewers know him for his floral arrangements and bubble bouquets bursting forth in a pure palette. But he is neither a floral arranger nor a balloon vendor.

Once a hyperrealist, Rothmann evolved. His blossoms and orbitals can’t be found in vases, decor or still lifes. They barely stay still on his canvas. Like his art, the artist is on the move, a sort of “artist without borders” who still loves travelling worldwide for inspiration from one artist residency to another.

Not a florist or gardener either, think of him as a hunter/gatherer, whose new found flowers are first observed on his travels and then blossom forth in various forms of abstraction. Not that objects are absent in this exhibition. Rothmann continues a career-long infatuation with circles and florals, which appear singly or in carefully composed groupings.

In fact, the re-working of three large discs used previously in outdoor installations, “Blue Horizon,” “Waterfall” and “Abstract Landscape” marks a return to a previous investigation of the circle that had come to a standstill well over a decade ago.

“I have always been looking for ‘open’ not determined forms, which gives freedom in interpretation,” Rothmann said. “After years I ended up doing circles, ellipses and balls. But how can you continue, when the form becomes (too) perfect?”

He credits his recent progression to photography, which allowed him to shoot blossoms as well as other objects spontaneously as he found them, often unfocused. In this manner, “the paintings developed, spontaneously, transient, sketchy…watercolor style.”

Over time the artist added the conceptual addition of a monochrome stripe, which stabilizes the main subject “going from a very expressive part to the quiet surface,” a tactic he learned from his study of calligraphy.

Which brings us to this exhibit. Once again, Rothmann is “on the move.” Though his art is still familiar to the viewer, it is also radically different. His petals and circles vibrate, sing and dance. Even those works more anchored by a single complimentary color stripe in the adjacent panel, appear free and open to their environment.

“Colors on the Move”  isn’t a garden, and it’s not quite a jungle. The exhibit feels like one has gloriously stumbled into a meadow whose natural setting is dominated first by color, form, line and yes, motion. This is how Rothmann composes, because this is how he sees.

As for the viewer, the exhibit initially places one on sensory overload. And then, gradually stems, petals, seeds and thistles, perhaps even a stamen and pistil begin to appear. One might even attempt to identify a species, as if that mattered. But once comfortable in the artist’s meadow, one may find that certain works are particularly moving, some more seductive than others.

“Flowers I Black I Green” greets the viewer first, the closest to a bouquet in the exhibit. But then there is that black background suggesting a discordant push/pull of its own as if these flowers were blooming somehow at night. Even the green slash of color lends a preternatural quality to this accomplished work.

Two paintings, “Hot Spring” and “Play of Colours”, companion pieces really, serve as prime examples of Rothmann’s art currently as the work here is more abstract than figurative. His circles and flowers have truly opened up. In “Hot Spring” with a blue motif, the circles are reduced to splashes, swirls and gestures, nearly finger painting. It looks like petals submerged underwater in a pond.

True to form also, “Play of Colours” features splotches of color, sun-dappled primary and secondary colors, all of them popping on a bed of black and white, a brilliant interplay of pigment and light.

In contrast, and a personal favorite, “Blue Circles on the Move” runs counter to the above as its objects have been reduced to monochromatic abstract motion. The painting vibrates as if energized by a force behind it, a captivating sample of a Rothmann past motif, ENERGY balls.

Two of the three large discs, “Waterfall” and the rather prosaically titled “Abstract Landscape”, are particularly captivating because they are closest in the show to true nature studies despite their minimalistic style and abstraction. In the former water does seem to tumble below its frame to the viewer’s feet, and the latter features it own rushing stream with a red sky above.

Despite their expansive landscape, the discs too have a curious push/pull of their own. Hung together, the two circular frames give the impression of seeing each image through a telescope or zoom lens, thus limiting one’s perception but not imagination. Thus we are clearly seeing things through Rothmann’s eyes; his point of view is both formal and open.

On a much smaller scale are his wall installation of 20 watercolors, “Philippines”, each 9 ½” by 12”, Asian influenced, no two alike despite their minimalism and shared palette. So delicate and deft are these, that one almost sees the artist at work not unlike a calligrapher. The result is a montage of natural delights as one envisions not only singular flowers but sunsets, northern lights, volcanoes, rainbows and reflective pools, among others.

And then there is Rothmann’s masterwork itself, “Circles on the Move”, which vaults its subject into the heavens itself from where the inspiration must have come. The large 6’7” by 9’2” painting is a cacophony of pure abstract color, energy and form, not planted on the canvas but suspended in midair seemingly well beyond its boundaries, the yellows especially dazzling.

In a word, this work is orgasmic. It’s a feast for the senses, and it is relentless. It demands attention, and it satisfies repeated viewings the way one returns to a great movie sitting in the 6throw where one’s peripheral vision won’t admit distractions. It’s Rothmann’s climactic statement about the sublimity of Nature to both capture and inspire.

It’s his “push” beyond the borders while other works “pull” one into the frame. Several paintings and watercolors emphasize the simplistic and rely upon the reductive to dazzle. This titular work reminds us Nature will have its way, that indeed less is not always more, sometimes only more will do.

That Circles on the Move is satisfying regardless of scale is testimony to Rothmann’s ability to evolve. His art is expressive, not figurative. It’s less about what’s there and more about what you imagine. You don’t think his work, you feel it. It’s as animated as the artist himself.

“Circles on the Move” continues at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery in the Old Market Passageway until July 1. For details and gallery hours go to https://www.facebook.com/TheGardenOfTheZodiac/ or call (402) 341-1877

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