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Katherine Rohrbacher: Fort Wayne Expatriate

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Although it would be wonderful if young contemporary artists could find a hungry market for their work in Fort Wayne, reality must take over at some point, and they must look to other markets that provide room for them to grow, and opportunities that, currently, just are not present locally. Katherine Rohrbacher is one such artist who has not only been fearless in her aesthetic and geographic explorations, but has also not forgotten her roots. If Fort Wayne’s art scene wants to continue growing, it needs to develop more artists like this, who have the strength to enter larger markets while not abandoning our emerging local scene completely. These expatriates are best way to create more lines of communication between Fort Wayne and larger metropolitan areas. And Katherine Rohrbacher has a lot of experience at this so far, having lived in Chicago, Baltimore, and soon to be living in Los Angeles.

Rohrbacher has always been an artist, but really started delving into it as a Southside High School student, who then jumped straight to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, to graduate with a BFA and a concentration in painting. After graduating, Rohrbacher had a brief Fort Wayne relocation, which included being accepted to the Vermont Studio Center, a prestigious residency program, before taking another jump, this time to Baltimore, enrolling into the graduate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Here Rohrbacher has studied for the past two years in the Hoffberger School of Painting, receiving expert advice and guidance from such notable artists and art aficionados as the late Grace Hartigan, artists Joyce Kozloff, Timothy App, and Sam Gilliam, and NYC art critic Dominique Nahas. Also, Rohrbacher noted that she developed a great deal because of her peers at MICA, saying that they really grew together. Through this program, Rohrbacher’s artistic practice, while still containing the core ideas, has transformed substantially into a strong studio practice, consistent conceptual practice, and beautiful end product. Rohrbacher, and her art, are now ready for the next step. What this means concretely is an MFA Thesis show at MICA (opening in the later half of April), a big move to Venice Beach (district in Western LA known for its boardwalk and as a home for the Beat Poets). Although not concrete, it is also very probable that in LA, Rohrbacher will find the next step in her career, which means more exhibitions, more art, and hopefully representation by an LA gallery.

The MFA Thesis Show, which Rohrbacher is currently putting together, will include pieces, which culminate these last two years of artistic growth. That growth can be seen in two very distinct developments; a stronger influence of drawing in her work, and the use of glitter. While Rohrbacher has always been a draftswoman, her previous work was much more painterly, and was not anchored to line work as much as it was to color and the placement of that color (due to the heavy influence which Hans Hoffman still holds over much of academic painting instruction).

Although Rohrbacher certainly has not broken with painting, she is now exploring less traditional forms, and mixing many drawing techniques and actual drawings to her work. One of these less traditional forms is the act of painting with glitter, which she is currently using for a somewhat abstract series of lace pattern paintings. Affixed with glue onto a wooden panel, the glitter becomes a painted medium like any other. These very fresh paintings have an interesting and complex iconography. The lace patterns which Rohrbacher is using connects these pieces to the traditionally domestic work of woman, especially young women, and the cottage industries of the past which somewhat mimic the art world today. Glitter, a very disrespected, crafty medium, compounds this imagery of “low-art” further, making the paintings much more light and a little whimsical. However the overall effect of this imagery, including the exposed wooden panels that support the images, instantly transports the paintings back into the high arts by making strong connections to artists like Philip Taaffe, Ross Bleckner, Marc Swanson, Chris Ofili, and others who use complex patterns, appropriation, and aren’t afraid to experiment with the materials they paint with.

The final pieces that Rohrbacher will display in the MFA Thesis Show will combine these glitter paintings with drawings reminiscent of those seen at her most recent Fort Wayne, show “Momento Mori.”These small format (1” x2”) drawings will be placed inside the glitter paintings-with the use of a jigsaw-and covered with glass, which will be flush with the wooden panel. The drawings will be of 10 classmates of Rohrbacher’s who have passed away. The size, colors and patterns of each painting will be determined by the intimacy and kind of relationship that Rohrbacher had with each person. These extremely time intensive pieces will become duel meditation/dedications. The votive qualities of these pieces are similar to the great French artist Christian Boltanski.

As Katherine Rohrbacher continues to grow into the role of a contemporary artist, her practice is bound to change again and again. With this change will come a need for more fearlessness, dedication, and more moving. Who knows, perhaps the future will be some freak opportunity for Rohrbacher to move back to Fort Wayne, or into an extremely rural location. The artist and art world must necessarily be able to shift to the circumstances they find themselves in-which are most likely boiling with movement.

You can see more of Katherine Rohrbacher’s art work at www.katgallery.net.

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