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The road to 'Funky' town

photo courtesy of Red Rohall
Red Rohall paints the diners and roadside attractions he saw on his journey through the Midwest. His exhibit, "Funky Roadside Attractions," can be seen at the Union Gallery until Feb. 12.
By Gabe Joselow
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 22, 2004
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T he signs of life on the streets and highways of this country have been reduced to a dull repetition of chain restaurants and super-stores. Since there is no soul at a Cracker Barrel, we look to the unique relics of the back roads for a sincere voice.

Painter Red Rohall's exhibition "Funky Roadside Attractions," which will run through Feb. 12 at the Union Gallery in the Student Union Memorial Center, is a collection of oil paintings that seek to capture the character of roadside attractions, such as diners, motels and ice cream stands.

"We live in a funky world," Rohall says. "Let's enjoy it."

With this exhibition, Rohall has returned to Tucson after 20 years of seeking out these funky destinations on the back roads of America.

Trained formally as a photographer, Rohall's paintings are based on photographs of buildings that have stood out to him during various jaunts around the country. The subjects that most grab his interest are those that seem to tella story.

In his own analogy, Rohall thinks of his work as being like stage scenery: If it works, it tells part of the story before the actors arrive. That sentiment is emphasized by the complete absence of people in his work.

In the painting, "U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas," Rohall uses bright, vibrant colors in contrast with dark dramatic shadows to create an intense and energetic atmosphere. The extreme use of color and dramatic lighting is typical of his work.

The paintings in this collection are romanticized and highly Expressionistic, and Rohall is uninterested in accomplishing a completely accurate image. The photographs he used may appear accurate, fail to capture the image as the artist sees it. Rohall said in an artist's statement: "Often I end up making so many changes to the painting that its relation to the original scene is in spirit only."

The work has the timelessness of vintage clothing: it gives an impression of the near past but cannot be located any more specifically. The work hints at a story like an overheard conversation but stops just short of revealing the whole thing.

There is no doubt that Rohall is also a good technical artist: His color palette is well-chosen, he has mastered the use of reflection and shadow, and his paintings are nicely balanced. One intriguing and complex piece is "Modern Miss," which depicts the front of a women's shoe store heavily fragmented by the angles of its glass display case.

There are times, however, where it feels like we've been down this road before - capturing some very familiar objects of everyday main-street life. This story has already been told. The work often times feels needlessly sentimental or nostalgic, something like the image of the Coca-Cola bottle printed on a can of Coke.

This exhibition is not meant to stir anybody up, and it is not taking any risks; it is as playful as the title suggests. Simply put, it's a fun show, Rohall has assembled a good collection of "cool stuff."

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