Artist Kim Rohrs collapses time in ‘Everything Counts’

The painter traverses 100 years in 64 paintings in a new Blockfort exhibit

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
One Year, Suspended (365 cells) #58 by Kim Rohrs

In the months after Kim Rohrs had her second child, she struggled with what it meant to be an artist, unable to dedicate the time to painting that she had previously. 

“I was fighting the stereotype … that you need a studio and three hours of undivided time to do your work,” Rohrs said.

Rather than give in, the artist started to work with watercolors, which didn’t require extensive time to set up or pack away. This allowed Rohrs to leave an in-progress piece out on a dining room cabinet, which she would return to in those sometimes-brief moments between other household duties. “I would literally paint until someone needed something,” Rohrs said. “It was this idea that you didn’t need this grand block of time. Those small bits eventually added up to a finished painting.”

The artist’s new exhibit, “Everything Counts,” which will have its opening reception at Blockfort on Friday, Aug. 6, has its roots in this concept, with Rohrs painting a series of 36,500 dots, or cells, across 60 resin works and four canvases that collectively represent 100 years (one cell per year). 

Each of the 60 resin works contains 365 dots, which are distributed between 17 layers of resin, lending a three-dimensional aspect to each piece. Spaced around three walls of the gallery, these 60 paintings, meant to represent 60 years, move through winter (chilly whites and blues), spring (pops of red, green and yellow), summer (yellows and bright oranges) and fall (gold and amber hues), reflecting a passage of time disconnected from the calendar. 

“During the pandemic, I was still counting the days, but I went through this experience when everything shut down where I didn’t look at my calendar anymore,” said Rohrs, who kept track of the number of cells in each piece as she worked by notching dashes on a piece of tape stuck to the underside of the painting. “Hearing things like, ‘Today is Thursday,’ didn’t mean a lot, especially in those first few months. But I knew spring was here because plants were coming out of the ground. And so I started to think about how I could incorporate that idea of time not as a linear thing — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday — but more along the lines of how does time feel?”

These resin works are flanked on the south wall of the gallery by four larger canvas paintings, each of which contains 3,650 dots representing 10 years, for a sum total of 40 years.

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The strict guidelines Rohrs adopted for this project had some questioning whether the artist was more left-brained, approaching day-to-day life in a methodical, organized manner. “Really, though, I’m not the kind of person who’s strict about lots of things,” Rohrs said, and laughed. “It’s more the meditative nature of the process that I enjoy.”

Indeed, while each piece was crafted under mathematically strict parameters, the works collectively take on a more nature-based quality — a thread that has long been present in Rohrs’ work owing in part to the years she spent growing up on a farm in Northwest Ohio. In an earlier series, for example, Rohrs repeated shapes to create murmurations that echoed phenomena she witnessed in the natural world. “The [earlier] paintings were really inspired by natural occurrences rather than anything man-made,” Rohrs said, pointing to videos of fish circling in the water as a means of protecting the pod from a potential predator as just one example.

While Rohrs' previous work and experiences helped shape “Everything Counts,” she traced the exhibit’s jumping-off point to the death of her grandmother, who was in her 90s when she passed away a few years ago. 

“During that time, I was thinking a lot about all of those days, like, how many sandwiches did she make?” Rohrs said. “And then I started thinking, what would that look like if her life was in a painting? And that started to bring me on this path of counting every cell I paint. … I really wanted to explore how you could show an entire life in a painting, but in an abstract way. I like how [the cells] build on each other, and the way it captures not just this day or this year, but how all of those experiences can add up to something more.”