Robert Rohm’s vivid impressionistic scenes engage the imagination
By Rosemary Carstens
This story was featured in the July 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art July 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art July 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
To be an artist, to paint, is to fly without a safety net. There is no assurance of the final results, whether glorious success or gloomy disaster. Thousands of minute-by-minute decisions go into the work, each step either sure or tentative. To be an artist is to maintain courage, determination, and optimism in the face of challenges. Many attempt it; few land on firm, high ground. Robert “Bob” Rohm is one of the few who has pushed through promise to success and recognition.
Rohm paints a wide variety of subject matter, and he does not want “to be put in a box and expected to produce just one kind of thing in one way,” he says. Still, he is perhaps best known for his radiant landscapes, in which he strives to translate enormous detail into the essence, the “poetry,” of the world around him. “Poetry in the landscape,” he says, “means to impart a feeling for a scene rather than just to illustrate it—to engage the viewer’s imagination.”
In a way, Rohm is a choreographer. He coordinates color, value, composition, texture, and temperature to capture a vivid, impressionistic sense of time and place. “Painterly is the perfect word to describe Bob Rohm’s paintings,” says Michael Henington, owner of Michael Henington Fine Art Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, the site of Rohm’s one-man show in August. “His passion for rich colors and bold brush strokes draws you in, taking your breath away.”
These qualities are quickly apparent in all of Rohm’s work, but ASPEN AND OAKS is a particularly vibrant example of how the artist works and how distinctive are his results. One autumn when Rohm was hiking in the San Juan Mountains outside of Ouray, CO, he came upon a dazzling display of aspen and scrub oak that had simultaneously peaked in their fall color—a rare coincidence. In Rohm’s painting of the scene, the deep red, rust, and orange of the scrub oak and the golden hues of the aspen contrast sharply with the graceful, vertical lines of the tree trunks. The scene is further strengthened by the glittering angle of the late- afternoon sun. Reflections from the sky and the interplay of sunshine and shadow add splashes of blue and pink. Always looking for high contrast and dynamic light, Rohm favors backlit scenes like this one because they offer opportunities to manipulate values and temperatures to emphasize color harmonies and focal points.
Rohm grew up in rural south- central Pennsylvania in a family of hardworking people who were not tuned into art, especially not as a means to make a living. He was frequently “fooling around with art” as a kid, and everyone liked what he produced, but no one took it seriously as a career option. But when he was 12 years old, Rohm’s aunt took him to an exhibit of impressionist paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It was like a light switching on,” he recalls, and the idea of becoming an artist took root. At the age of 18, Rohm entered a three-year program at the York Academy of Arts (now the Art Institute of York Pennsylvania), where he focused on illustration and graphic arts. Upon graduation, he went to work in the film and video industry and continued there for many years.
The work ultimately took him, his wife Lynn, and their two children to Dallas, TX, in 1982. It was a time of dynamic growth in commercial video, and he was working long hours; his fine art fell by the wayside. For a decade, from 1976 until about 1986, he didn’t paint at all. A period followed where he did freelance multimedia work, and the breaks between contracts allowed him time to paint. By 1990, he was painting mostly full time. Three years ago, with their children grown and out on their own, he and Lynn moved to rural Texas Hill Country near Austin, where they live in a quiet area with “lots of Lake Travis access and plenty of Hill Country scenery nearby.”
Although Rohm didn’t find his childhood landscape particularly interesting when he lived there, it’s now one of his favorite places: “Every year I visit my parents and family, and I love taking drives through the beautiful farmland. I think growing up in a rural area is one of the primary reasons I seek open country unencumbered by manmade objects. When I do include those in my work, I’m attracted to simple forms, much like the barns and fence lines found in Pennsylvania. But I’m also attracted to rural southwestern scenes and trying to capture the feeling of undisturbed places here. I like the distinct western character of this part of Texas—the cactus, oak trees, and rolling hills.”
There have been some prominent influences in Rohm’s art career. He considered well-known oil and pastel artist Ann Templeton, who passed away in 2011, his mentor: “She was a dear friend who gave me moral support and was always there when I needed answers about painting, teaching, or living life as a working artist. She was a good critic who could evaluate all styles of work and had a great outlook on life.”
Other major influences have included Albert Handell and Matt Smith. Rohm initially took three workshops in a row from Handell in the 1980s; then, in the 1990s, he studied with Smith, also benefiting from Smith’s own experiences studying with James Reynolds and Clyde Aspevig. It was during those workshops that Rohm’s signature approach began to emerge. “I learned to simplify masses and to make one area a focal point through careful attention to value, color, and temperature,” Rohm says.
Rohm’s skillful use of value, color, and temperature can be fully appreciated in FULL SAIL, a painting sparked by a sailing regatta on Lake Travis. This composition, one of a series, was developed from a succession of photographs he took watching the competition. He reeled off shots first on the lake’s north side, then he raced around to get different views from the south end as the boats swooped by, dipping deeply to tack under strong winds. It was a stellar day—warm but not hot, puffy clouds in a mostly clear sky, a mosaic of color sparkling off the water. In the painting, vertical masts break up the horizontal landscape, which is left subtle and impressionistic in the background.
The painting exemplifies what Bob Malenfant, director of Southwest Gallery in Dallas, TX, means when he describes Rohm’s work as “infused with light, often exciting and magical.” Malenfant adds, “He is capable of painting any subject, but each painting is clearly identifiable as a Bob Rohm. He is also a great and genuine person, and I think his future potential is enormous. In difficult times I always see a flight to quality among collectors, and Bob always delivers.”
In his limited free time, Rohm never sits still. He loves to build things and has customized all his easels and plein-air equipment. A few years ago, he built a hot-rod motorcycle from some salvaged parts. He remains fascinated by the photography he first studied in art school, and he has made and uses pinhole cameras and view cameras for creating black-and-white photographs.
Rohm has received many awards and is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and Oil Painters of America. His work is held in private collections throughout the United States and Europe.
The future looks good for Bob Rohm. He’s participated in national shows and scored top galleries that appreciate his work. He sets the bar high for himself. But the biggest challenge, he says, is “accepting and being comfortable with my own style. It’s hardest to be yourself at any cost.”
Aspen Grove Fine Art, Aspen, CO; Bryans Gallery, Taos, NM; Marta Stafford Fine Art, Marble Falls, TX; RS Hanna Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; Southwest Gallery, Dallas, TX; The Gallery at Round Top, Round Top, TX; Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX; Michael Henington Fine Art Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; bobrohm.com.
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