Rohn’s Oil and Acrylic Portraits are Blurring Abstract and Realism

It started with a weird question, “how can you hope to be a great tattooist that puts something permanent on someone if you can’t even draw something good on paper?”

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P58 - Acrylic by Rohn, crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
P58 - Acrylic by Rohn

In January 2013, after deciding to take a life-long obsession with tattoos to the next level, Rohn bought himself a tattoo kit. That’s a weird way to start a career in oil and acrylic painting, but in this case, it’s honest. While researching online, he came across a comment for aspiring tattooists stating, “If you can’t even draw a realistic portrait on good ol’ paper first, don’t even dare think about putting ink to skin.” Rohn though the commenter had a point and so he began to paint.

“If you can’t even draw a realistic portrait on good ol’ paper first, don’t even dare thinking about putting ink to skin”

P51 - Acrylic - By Rohn, crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
P51 – Acrylic – By Rohn

He had always been drawn to portraits and quickly came across Francoise Nielly’s oil work. Unable to even afford one of her prints, Rohn took a shot at duplicating one and found that he really enjoyed the process. After deciding that he had “gotten lucky” with getting the eyes right, he persisted and eventually moved on to using oils. The new medium felt right and he continued his self-imposed study in books, online, and even by joining the local art club. Through all the hair-pulling, face-melting frustration of not being able to paint exactly what Rohn saw in his head, he was still able to note his own progress. Those small moments of getting something right was worth the hard work – so he stuck with it. And it paid off. He participated in his first group exhibition in New Zealand in October 2014.

P70 - Oil by Rohn, crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
P70 – Oil by Rohn

Rohn usually finds subjects online based on pose and lighting, but quickly changes the hairstyle and colour, eye colour, and facial expressions in his portraits. Between the amount of time each piece takes to complete and the odd hours Rohn often works, having a model sit in would be impractical. After putting reference lines on canvas in either charcoal or pencil, Rohn moves onto building up layers of paint for skin undertones. Just getting those layers on canvas takes around a week. The detail work takes between 1-2 weeks and he can sit for 8 hours each session without realizing the time has passed. The final week is spent fussing over the overall feel of the piece – does it hold it’s character in a close up, from a distance, in low lighting? If it does, Rohn carries on. If it doesn’t, after nearly a month of work, the piece might find it’s way to the bin.

Rohn works with 2 pieces at a time. And he’s enough of a perfectionist that more pieces have made their way to the bin than to his digital galleries. But there’s a logic to it. He states, “Sometimes I think that,’ this is the very best I can do,’ and then a week later I beat it. Going from what I’ve read, that process continues for a lifetime. So what if I don’t sell every piece I begin? I gain experience from each mistake and that experience can’t get tossed away, so it’s all good.”

P58 - Acrylic by Rohn, crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
P58 – Acrylic by Rohn

Rohn’s acrylic pieces have a similar theme to his oil paintings, but they tend to be more expressive and take less time than oil paintings. They provide a respite from the intensity of his oil work, allowing him to unwind between oil paintings. Rohn, “goes berserk” with colour, because while he loves it, he uses a limited palette for his oils. He’s starting to lock down his style (mystic, dark, moody), but acknowledge that every artist develops their signature over time. He’s still in the midst of that process.

P62 - Oil by Rohn, crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
P62 – Oil by Rohn

Rohn’s personal favorite piece is #62 in large part because it was the first piece he created that turned out quite close to his initial intention. The skin tone, subject’s pose, and general composition make it difficult to let go of.

P65 - Oil by Rohn, crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
P65 – Oil by Rohn

Rohn tries to capture subjects in candid poses with restrained emotion. He has several themes in mind when painting, but is also very wary of telling viewers how to react to his pieces. Subjectivity is hugely important in his work. However, the blurring of faces is intended to mimic that moment when we almost see a face in a crowd, but just miss it. There is a playing with themes of the fast pace of technology, nods to both Rothko and Rembrandt, and a wistful hope that the viewer will fill in the blurs, the gaps in Rohn’s realism with their own images.

Check out Rohn’s complete gallery on Bluethumb here.