The Nature of Art with Artist, Robert Bohan
Charming, colorful, symbolic in meaning, and emotive in its expression, the works of Robert Bohan ignites the inner child within us all. The formal approach of Bohan’s drawings are as imagitive as that of a child, while examinating the ideas metaphysics; as his abstract expressionist figurative paintings are alluring and irresistible to sight. As a scientist of natural science, Bohan implemented his studies in botanical illustrations and scientific graphic techniques to explore theories of natural life by creating philosophical art. As we as humans are often searching for answers of natural life, Bohan tugs on the strings of our curiosity of the links of connection of all life forms, as well as creating relatable contemplative emotional works. With such a universal concept, there’s no surprise to his enormous following on social media, consisting of over 250,000 followers on Twitter alone, making him the most followed artist in Ireland. We at Harper’s Galleria had the privilege of having an email exchange with Bohan about his work’s inspirations, theories, and philosophy.
Harper’s Galleria: Color plays a significant role in your works and is a clear defining characterization of your oeuvre. At times you use color in an abstractual way to evoke emotions and symbolically in narrative. Explain to us your connection to vibrant colors.
Robert Bohan: Vibrant colour has always been important to me. After being blind in my left eye, I discovered that in place of seeing the supposed blackness one imagines, there was a milky white uncertainty and an absence of color. That, I suppose made me even more conscious of its importance. Life is too short to be beige!
Harper’s Gallleria: Your figurative ink drawings encompass interesting narratives and symbolisms. There’s two distinct contexts in these figurative ink works, one that displays human connections and the other, lone visceral contemplation. In both, color or lack there of carries the stories of the works, for instance the reoccurring use of the array of colors in the rainbow or liner etches that fills an outlined figure. Explain what you are addressing in the contrast of companionship to an individual reflection, and colors to blankness in these figurative ink drawings.
Robert Bohan: I use color in an entire subconscious way and pick up the ink I feel immediately drawn to for whichever part I am completing. In that sense, my process is attuned to the emotion I am exposing in a given work. I suppose the fact that my drawings come straight from the subconscious mean that emotion is always going to be paramount. My definition of art is the portrayal of emotion. Interestingly, at exhibitions, people tell me they are drawn to the work at a visceral level.
As my work is driven by the subconscious, I’m often not aware of what I am going to create and let the pen or brush decide instead. Images appear and evolve and I either colour them or not depending on my reaction to them - it’s not a conscious decision - I give my imagination complete autonomy. In the same way, whether a drawing is of human relationships or an investigation of the self is entirely dependent on my subconscious and what it wants to do.
Likewise, whether a drawing is in black and white or pigmented inks is a subconscious decision. I’ve regularly thought of something I think I might want to create only to sit down and end up with something completely different! Ultimately, what matters to me is that the work be authentic and honest.
The symbols which evolve tend to be universal and readily accessible across cultures which is probably why, since I started using social media a few years ago, the reaction has been astonishing. It’s one thing seeing that online, but in person is humbling. One lady was so moved by one of my pieces that she shook as she told me how staggered she had been by it.
Harper’s Galleria: In your figurative paintings your painterly style is fluid and wild as shown in your flat swatches, long sweeping strokes and thick layering of loose strokes of color. Again your choice of color is alluring for its fluorescent pigmentation. There is definitely an Fauves and Abstract Expressionism influence displayed in your paintings. The minimal detailing of the facial features of the figures prevents a connection of identification of the subjects depicted but rather appears to act more as a expression of emotions. Explain in full what you are expressing in these works and how you want audience to engage with these figurative paintings.
Robert Bohan: The instrument employed in creating an image has a significant impact on a work. Paint takes longer to dry and is a three-dimensional format so it’s a different experience to drawing. I love drawing as it’s immediate experience and facilitates the direct transmission of the subconscious to the page. With drawing, the line is final, but with painting, you have the opportunity to keep making changes until the paint dries.
Harper’s Galleria: Your scientific works are your most celebrated works on social media. Your microorganisms ink drawings shows vibrancy of life even in the smallest form. Explain how your background in natural science has influenced these works.
Robert Bohan: Having trained as a scientist, I’ve always been fascinated with the diversity of life forms and the importance of each. Even in the tiniest drop of pond water an entire universe can be observed. The entire planet, our solar system and our beings are all intricately linked and dependent. The natural world is an intrinsic part of our lives, whether it’s the bacteria in our gut, the sparrows in the street or the foxes that hunt suburban gardens. Since my approach is to give free reign to my subconscious, gradually, all manner of imaginary creatures and plants have emerged in my drawings. These have evolved in tandem with the other subconscious symbols into a stream of images.
Harper’s Galleria: At times in your “science works” you create anthropomorphic plants, animals, and microorganisms. These works appear to regard consciousness of all life forms beyond the humans species. What’s intriguing about these works is the contrast of science to religion, in which science is about facts and religion is more ambiguous yet in these works you harmonize the two by giving the Higher Power gift of consciousness to all living organisms. Explain your philosophy in these works.
Robert Bohan: Contrary to popular belief, science is not about facts; it’s about developing theories regarding how the world works and testing those theories out in order to establish their truth and reliability. As such, science is an exploration, a search for meaning and understanding like the journey of life itself. I would say that the biggest influence of science on my work is the drive to explore the journey that my imagination is on, and to record it as accurately as possible.
Harper’s Galleria: Where do you see your works evolving towards in the near future and how do you think it will impact the art world?
Robert Bohan: Without censoring it, I want my art to unfurl as an expression of my inner self. For me, the power of imagination is an exciting one, and I hope that by ploughing my own path, the art I create resonates for the viewer whether on a purely aesthetic level, or because it draws them in and strikes a chord of personal meaning.
Harper’s Galleria: Are there any developing projects from you that we should keep a look out for?
Robert Bohan: This summer I’m having my largest one-man exhibition to date in Dublin at The Kemp gallery and really looking forward to that to see people react to the work as a body. I’m also exploring representation by an international gallery. A number of contemporary art galleries in the Americas and Europe have been following my career and I am interested in developing relationships that will allow me to focus as much on creating new images as working with gallerists and curators internationally.
The interview can be accessed online here.