Mixed materials—including vintage prints, color snapshots, oil studies, finished drawings, process drawings, ink-jet printouts, flyers, and posters—ranging in size from 2 x 3 to 26 x 36 inches
Richmond-based painter J. Bohannan was born in New York City in 1950 and moved with his family at age two to Hilton Village, Newport News, and later, as a teenager, to Hopewell. After studying art at the Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bohannan worked as a salesman in his father’s art supply store, selling his own original artwork on the side. By his own admission, his paintings of the time were derivative of the European high art and contemporary abstraction he had studied at RPI. Then one day he picked up a copy of Matthew Baigell’s The American Scene: American Painting of the 1930s (1974) from a discount book bin. Until then, Bohannan says, he had never really seen, much less studied, modern American painting, despite four years of formal art education.
Working alongside street artists in Verona and Munich, copying famous Caravaggios and Bouchers in pastel on public sidewalks, Bohannan developed a passion for “plastic realism,” embedding human forms in visual space in a way that is, as Bohannan puts it, “more there than right”—that is, more materially present than technically correct. After his return to Virginia from Europe, Bohannan began developing a latter-day American Scene style, and his career took off in a wave of commissions. In 1995, after an employee of Philip Morris saw one of his paintings in a Richmond coffee shop, the company began hiring Bohannan to create the artwork for its “Keep Tobacco Clean” poster series, intended for display in its growers’ warehouses.
The J. Bohannan Poster and Drawing Collection is a rich assortment of original material donated by Bohannan, and includes process drawings and other work related to Bohannan’s ongoing series (begun in 2003) of uncommissioned canvases depicting various Richmond-related historic figures such as Gilbert Hunt of the Richmond Theatre fire fame, slavery escapee Henry Box Brown, and bank robbers Robert Howard Mais and Walter Legenza. Also in the collection are color photographs, taken by Bohannan, of various finished canvases (1989–2008) depicting scenes from Virginia history, folklore, carnivals, nightlife, etc.
Arrangement and access: Mixed materials organized by theme.
Provenance: Donated 2011