Aaron Bohrod

Sazama Gallery

Aaron Bohrod’s recent small and fetishistic paintings are almost annoying in their unapologetic garishness. Stubborn and overripe, they seem to assault and overcome their viewers. Bohrod’s paintings accrue pictorial elements in near riotous profusion; they skirt the edges of becoming compendia of both observation and mania. But there is authority here despite all of the rococo indulgences, and it rests in Bohrod’s long and remarkable career. He studied with John Sloan in New York in the early ’30s, exhibited work at the Whitney Museum of American Art as early as 1936, and was part of the Carnegie International in 1939. His nearly 60 years as an artist (the last 40 spent in Madison, Wisconsin) have certainly led Bohrod to know his own mind. He invests a good deal of time in the evocation of surfaces and he exhibits great craft in the obsessive description of wood grain and peeling wall-paint. In his current work he reflects on the delights of an idiosyncratic and scrupulous realism, and the love of pure rendering that leads him to a multifarious lusciousness.

Bohrod’s pictorial format has not changed much in the past 30 years. His works are fair but not slavish aims at trompe l’oeil still lifes, almost always presenting items arranged across a wooden shelf or tabletop, or as elements attached to or leaning on walls. Across the tabletops Bohrod arranges a setup of a group of things, bits of porcelain and ceramic bric-a-brac, tiny, stupid, and kitschy souvenirs that are redolent with the feel of being both beloved and vulgar objects. These almost surreptitiously gather meaning, even when slight in substance or ambition. In Animalphabet, 1989, Bohrod depicts four rows of these glazed luxuries, variously sized figurines of animals including an ape, bull, cat, dog, elephant, frog, goat, hen, ibex, jaguar, kangaroo, lion, mouse, and zebra. Bohrod’s delight in organization and his insistence on the full realization of a small idea is oddly wonderful. Objects D’Arf, 1981, is an all-toy-canine collection, in whose midst sits a small fire hydrant. Bohrod stoops to conquer.

In other works the artist shows a decided interest in buxom women in tight or no clothes. These fragments of soft-core erotica—many drawn from art history, here appearing as ripped-out illustrations from books or as tiny copies—give the pictures a sort of va-va-va-voom perfume that is curiously straightforward and direct. White on White, 1987, pairs a photo of Vanna White with one of Venus de Milo, amidst other sundry sculpted maidens, horses, flowers, and a postcard of a winter scene. Desire is subsumed within or redirected toward the desire of rendering—of making oil paint become this other coveted thing.

Bohrod himself appears in each of the 18 paintings on display here. Sometimes he shows up as a smallish rotund imp in a corner, wearing sports paraphernalia, just one more glassy toy among the throng. In other pictures his is the head on a button, or a reflection seen again and again across the surface of some object. His gnomish presence eventually becomes reassuring; it is the final idiosyncratic trump in this paean to the glories of American regionalism.

James Yood