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'Bolha: Genexodus' rooted in the basics, but grows much higher

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
“The Way the Wind Blows” by Theodore Bolha
“Moths in the Moon Lights” by Theodore Bolha
'Dodecahedron' by Theodore Bolha
Detail from 'Genexodus' by Theodore Bolha

Theodore Bolha's first solo exhibit, “Genexodus,” which opened last weekend at The Gallery 4 in Shadyside, has already gained a lot of attention.

Two pieces sold within the first hour of the opening reception, and, says Bolha, “The gallery was packed the entire time and most people commented about their breath being taken away. ... Everyone was impressed and couldn't believe I'm a native of Westmoreland County.”

Bolha grew up in Latrobe and studied graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He has since moved to the Polish Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. But it was time spent with his mother, who would often sketch plants and flowers from memory, that influenced his art the most.

Around the age of 9, he says, “I taught myself basic human and animal anatomy.” And it's those basics, along with what he learned from his mother, that informs his intricately detailed artworks today.

Bolha creates a type of paper-cut artwork called Scherenschnitte (pronounced “Sharon - SNITT,” German for “scissor cuts”). It can be traced back to the 16th century, but today the art form is having a revival of sorts, with many contemporary artists like Kara Walker and Bovey Lee adopting the technique as their main mode of expression.

But where Walker and Lee employ it in a narrative structure, Bolha chooses to reference the natural world. For example, the piece titled “Flora Fauna” features a deer skull set amongst a swirl of botanical growth that appears to nearly consume the central animal figure.

“It's the most time-consuming piece I've done to date,” says Bolha, who says most of his concepts just kind of pop into his head while out walking or biking. “Some require only 30 minutes, while others have taken nearly 200 hours. Having said that, I do believe great works of art can be achieved in very little time.”

While working on “Flora Fauna,” he says, “I was transported to a frame of mind that could be described as prehistoric.”

Bolha has been working with Scherenschnitte since 2008. “I start out by drawing on the reverse side, but each piece usually entails a slightly different process,” he says.

For example, of the 26 hand–cut pieces on display, only one piece in the show, “Insatiable,” started out as a digital image, which he cut out in reverse. “I have since abandoned the computer completely in respects to my paper cuttings,” Bolha says.

However, just as complex, the piece “Dodecahedron,” a free-standing paper sculpture, was created completely from a hand-drawn design.

“The ‘Dodecahedron' is a reference to Plato's thoughts on the Platonic Solids and how their structures appear in the universe,” Bolha says. “Specifically, Plato said that the dodecahedron was the shape of the universe itself.”

Cut from a single piece of paper, each unique side of the paper sculpture is based on the design of a pentagram.

Bolha says the piece “To Separate” is about “the human desire to explore, and to peel and separate layers for deeper exploration.”

“This yearning for knowledge can be likened to sexual curiosity and experimentation,” Bolha says of the piece, which features a set of human hands separating layers of cut paper.

“The Way the Wind Blows,” which features a flock of birds caught up in a windstorm, was inspired by the cyclical nature of life while also playing on our perception of direction.

“Genexodus,” the title piece of the show, is also an exploration of life and death, but, says Bolha, “with a pantheistic tone.”

The piece has, as its focal point, a human figure that appears to be delineated by the central nervous system of the human body. Again, cut from a single sheet of paper.

“The title ‘Genexodus' came to me after realizing that the body of work I had accumulated is all loosely based on my thoughts and feelings of how things change; the process of entropy — how all things depend on the deconstruction of another, the same way I deconstruct a piece of paper to create.”

In this way, Bolha created the title by combining the words genesis and exodus, not only to imply religious connotation, but, he says, “while I cut, I go into a meditative state, and that has become something akin to religion for me.”

Finally, “Moths in the Moon Lights” is a real stand-out because it is lit from within.

Featuring moths guided by moonlight, it's just one of several light-based works on display that complete this well-rounded exhibit. Bolha says of his light sculptures, which create a flicker of shadows on the gallery's walls, “They remind me of what it must have been like to see the fire's light playing on the walls of caves while those people began to articulate their world through images.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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