Painting and printmaking graduate student Aaron Koehn made his work known in Cleveland, Ohio, but the artist has recently established himself as one of Richmond’s rising artists.
On Nov. 1, the Page Bond Gallery will feature Koehn’s latest work titled “On one: New Work by Aaron Koehn.” In the last year, Koehn said he has developed a larger interest in objects common to the modern world.
“I’d be shopping for something I needed, like a toothbrush, and I started seeing connections of things within the stores,” he said. “There was a logic, or a way of thinking, that was in there that was different than something I could describe.”
While trying not to display overt messages with his art, he does attempt to connect his pieces to ideas found in everyday society.
“(Some of my) interests lie in degradation of materials, and that being a larger metaphor for the designed environment, or the social makeup of the world we live in,” Koehn said. “I’m not trying to say that we’re degrading … it’s just something I think about.”
Both of Koehn’s parents were artists, leading him to consider artistic experiences as “the norm” as he grew up. “(My parents) couldn’t afford daycare or childcare, so I would literally just go to the job sites of my dad … and help him sculpt,” he said.
Koehn didn’t realize his desire to become an artist until high school.
“I guess from a young age I was pretty fully immersed in somewhat of an art world, mostly because of my parents,” he said. “It wasn’t until later on, like in middle school and high school, that I realized what it was.”
Koehn started off as a painter. After graduating high school, Koehn attended Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Conn. He enrolled in a small, atelier-based B.F.A. painting program.
“I got interested in it because it seemed that they really had a core in foundation painting, and that’s really what attracted me at the time,” he said. “I soon discovered that I wasn’t really interested in that.”
After finishing his two-year post-baccalaureate program, Koehn moved back to Cleveland, his hometown. It was his first time living there as an adult. Once he settled in, Koehn said he made an effort to immerse himself in the local art scene.
“I started renting studio spaces from friends, I started meeting people, and after a year of being there, I opened up my own warehouse,” Koehn said. “I started renting spaces to friends, to people (whose work I admired), and offered them some cheap space.”
While living in Cleveland, Koehn’s work was featured in several galleries; his solo exhibitions were featured in the William Busta Gallery, while his group exhibitions were featured at the Walleye Gallery, the William Rupnik Gallery and the Proximity Gallery. Koehn was a participant in the Nesnadny and Schwartz Visiting Curator Program at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and the Fresh Paint Artist Lecture Series at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
However, despite the benefits of being part of the local scene, after four years Koehn felt that he had hit a plateau.
“I just got to a point where I realized that this small art community in northeast Ohio wasn’t enough for me,” he said.
The year prior to Koehn’s enrollment at VCU was marked by significant shifts in his style.
“There was a shift from painting into object making. There was a huge inquisition into what role painting played in my ideas,” Koehn said.
Koehn said graduate school was a great platform for him to be immersed into a new community.
“I just hit a point … where I thought grad school, particularly a grad school like VCU, could help me … dissect my interests, in hopes to get to the kind of root, or core, of what I’m really interested in,” he said.