Nicholas Bohac: Consistently Changing
We were thrilled to recently get in touch with artist Nicholas Bohac, an Omaha native whose work will be featured in the upcoming Bemis Underground exhibition Nothing & Everything at Once. Now based in San Francisco, Bohac talks about the exhibition, his methods and influences, and his Ralston roots.
Omaha.net: Tell us a bit about your process. How long does a typical painting take? Do you work on one piece at a time, or multiple works? Do you start with sketches?
Nicholas Bohac: The consistent theme within my process is to continue to evolve. When I started making the landscape work a few years ago, the work was all collage-cut paper on wood panel. Now it’s much more about painting directly on canvas and collaging elements into the compositions. For this show opening at the Bemis Underground, I scrapped the way I had done a lot of things in the past and tried some new things.
I went out and spent most of October at the Vermont Studio Center last year, and that’s where I really started to piece together this show. In fact, two of the smaller canvases ended up in this show and informed the larger work. After I got back from Vermont, I started to really think about and work on the paintings for the Underground show. So the first couple of larger paintings were started in early December, and the rest of the work came after that.
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
April 29 to May 28
Opening reception: April 29, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Gallery talk: May 7, 12 noon
It’s hard to gauge how long a painting takes, because for this show I was working on a lot of things at once. Some nights I was going into the studio and silkscreening onto film all night, to use in the smaller “Fragment” pieces that will be hung all over this show. Other days, it was all about painting. I mean, most of this work is being worked on for a month or two, but it’s very start-and-stop. Monday, I might go into the week thinking, “I’m going to work on these three paintings this week and try to wrap up these two,” but when push comes to shove, I end up focusing most of my attention on the painting that I wasn’t planning on finishing, and in the process I end up finishing that painting.
When I’m trying to develop a painting, I’m doing a mix of sketches and using a projector. Lately I’m starting with photos—both found and taken by myself—and typically I end up reworking them in Photoshop. I’ll project a general composition that I want to work from onto the canvas, and then start painting. As time progresses, I might do some sketches on tracing paper that I then lay over the painting and transfer onto the image. I mean, this is just how things are going now. A month or two from now, I might be doing things completely different.
You’re currently working on landscapes. California has a rich history of landscape painters. Nebraska has a distinct landscape. Tell us how the various places you’ve lived in inform your paintings.
For me, California is much more about the variance in the landscape, while Nebraska is very flat. Now, some people might hear “flat” and thing “boring,” but it’s much more than that to me. When I flew in last week, the first thing I noticed was just how huge the sky is. I don’t have mountains or tall buildings obstructing my view, and Nebraska has this phenomenal relationship with weather. Clouds come in, threatening a thunderstorm, and everything is lit with these warm pinks and oranges as the sun dips over the horizon. I don’t see things like that in California, especially in San Francisco. I’m only about five blocks in from Ocean Beach, so I can run out there and see a large sky over a flat ocean, but it just never reads the same way that it does here.
My wife is from this small town in southeast Kansas, and I go back there about once a year with her and always end up going back to California ready to work. I never lived in Kansas, and I never lived in a small town like she did, so there’s something really nice about going home with her and seeing things in a new light, especially coming from a place that’s as densely packed as the Bay Area. Vermont was that way, as well. The Studio Center is in this small town—Johnson, Vermont—that sits in this valley surrounded by tree covered mountains. I flew in a few days after the leaves had started changing colors, and before I knew it, I was making these very warm-colored paintings.
When I moved to San Francisco, that had a profound effect on how I thought about making work. There’s street art and public projects everywhere, and the Mission School aesthetic is very prevalent in a lot of the work I see out there. My colors got a lot more vibrant and flourescent when I got out there, and I can’t quite explain that. I feel lucky to have my work up at the Underground at the same time that Keith Jacobshagen is having his show. The way he paints a landscape is the way that I see Nebraska.
Could you walk us through one specific piece in your upcoming show at the Bemis? Where did the ideas come from? What types of references are you making?
I made two large paintings for this show, both 60” × 90”. They’re much larger than I’ve worked in the last couple of years, but that was more because of perceived space constraints I had in my studio. This show felt like more of a challenge to myself to make work that I normally wouldn’t for a primarily commercially based gallery. So one of these large paintings, “Minutes and the Months,” is what I’d consider to be a keystone painting for the show. It shows two large ice walls that have broken away from a glacial area in the background, as well as a great number of ice pieces floating in the water in and around the larger pieces. The bottom half of this painting is all water covered with ice pieces.
My whole idea for all of the work in this show is the cyclical nature of, well, nature. We’re losing a lot of the frozen landscape up north and around Antarctica, and it’s all happened before. Scientists have drilled ice cores showing how the planet warms, cools, warms, cools and it’s currently warming again. A lot of that is the natural progression of things, and some of it is humanity’s impact on the world we inhabit. So this is a painting about the consistently changing landscape. The sky also heavily references a painting of Jacobshagen’s that’s hanging at the Nelson-Atkins. A lot of the mark-making I’m using is based on a pointillistic approach to painting.
For the show, I also made 165 small 9” × 9” paintings of icebergs floating in water that I’m going to hang in a manner where it feels like they’re emanating out from that particular painting. These are the “Fragment” paintings, and I’m really just thinking about the chaotic nature of the world. They become these fractal representations of icebergs after awhile. Every painting is set up the same way, just with some variances.
What prompted you to go to art school and become an artist?
There’s not really much to this question. I always felt like I was making art. I was singled out early on in life as somebody who was capable of drawing, and that was something that I was encouraged to do. My parents were very supportive early on, and continue to be so. I went to Bellevue University for undergrad, but when I started thinking about graduate school, I applied to a lot of art schools, wanting to see what that experience was like. Also, I wanted a change of pace and scenery, and my wife felt the same way. Modern society and convenience allows me to come back to Omaha whenever I feel like, so in the end I felt like this was the right move for me.
What was it like growing up in Omaha? Are there things you miss about the place living on the West Coast? What are some local favorite places (eating, art, etc.) that you keep coming back to?
First of all, I love Omaha. I come back a couple times a year, and I spend a decent amount of time here when I am back. Some of my best friends in the world live here, my family is all here, the music scene is fantastic. The things I don’t like about this city mostly have to deal with driving and how spread out everything is here. The west coast is very laid back, but still much more fast paced than the Midwest.
Omaha shaped who I am. The people I grew up with and remain friends with. The neighborhood I grew up in Ralston, the swimming pool I spent most of my summers at, my buddy’s house when he had a half-pipe in his back yard, and the friends that I played music with. All of those things helped develop who I am today, and I’m very stoked on that.
Local favorites are Lo Sole Mio, Grisantis, Upstream Brewery, Fernando’s (the one on 76th), Pepperjax, and Sortino’s. Obviously I have ties with the Bemis, but I also really like what Omaha has over at the Hot Shops. I try to hit Joslyn whenever I’m back, and I know it’s not in Omaha, but I love the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City.