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Finding his way


December 2013

Trying to draw meaning out of Jason Rohlfís paintings is like trying to capture all of the details of a bustling urban scene: standing before the canvas, it constantly changes and evolves, forcing the viewer into a flexuous state of reinterpretation. It is everything you think it is, and everything you think itís not.

Thatís exactly what Rohlf wants. Moved by juxtaposition and crafting on intuition, the Milwaukee-born artist who absconded to Brooklyn nearly 15 years ago is clearly influencedby his mega-metropolis surroundings. Using a unique method of paint layering and collage, Rohlfís colorful, abstract designs are both futuristic and sinuously aged, just like the boroughs he frequents.

Consider "The Fortune Teller," which emits a galactic, almost celestial feel, and took at least 10 under paintings to complete its final look.

"I like the contrast between the organic elements, and how one thing always supplants the next," he says. "Iím really inspired by the idea of Ďpolyline offset,í and the memory of what came before. I just really enjoy it."

That interest transfers to canvas after canvas, where Rohlf arranges geometric shapes the way a municipal cartographer organizes a cityís blueprint. With his repetitive use of circles and crisscrossing pathways, his unique palette of colors lay splattered, gooped and layered atop one another, the sum of whose parts emerge to provide "a visual gorging," to the spectator, according to the artist.

Milwaukee viewers will get a taste of the ocular stimuli when the artist returns to his hometown to present "Navigational Aids," his sixth round at the Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St., Milwaukee, which opens Nov. 30. Rohlf will be on hand for an artistís talk the following weekend.

Rohlf has come a long way since debuting his work as an undergrad at UW-Milwaukee, though he dropped out of college before graduation to take a leap of faith in New York. Though his artist parents were less than pleased, Rohlf has proven to be a highly regarded talent. His work has been shown in galleries as far away as Australia, as well as in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and New York.

These days, Rohlf works from his home studio in Williamsburg, in one of the neighborhoodís last remaining artist lofts. From his perch in Brooklyn, he gathers the inventiveness used in his work. "New York is an intense place to be an artist," he says. "Itís kind of cliche, but it feeds you with a tremendous amount of inspiration."

Not that he wants to dictate anyoneís perceptions. In one painting, his thematic subtleties include an obstructed block of synapse-like symbols, similar to those used to signpost social networking. When asked about its meaning, he compared the layers of paint to the saturation of information created by online communication, but insists he isnít making a ruse for social commentary ó except in one regard. "I think in the Information Age, I want people to see real things, things that people make with their hands," he says. "Itís so easy to say youíve seen something, like on YouTube or Tumblr. I just want to create something real in the world.

"Thatís the expression of an artist."

Who: Artist Jason Rohlf
When: Exhibit opens Nov. 30; artistís reception 5-7:30 p.m. Dec. 6; artistís talk 2 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St., Milwaukee
Cost: Free and open to the public

This story ran in the December issue of: