Artists aim to challenge, comfort audience at festival

SALT LAKE CITY — In a festival populated with mind-bending sculptures, experimental photography and provocative surrealist paintings, Michael Rohner’s work stands out for its “gently confrontational” nature.

Presenting a style that combines pen-and-ink images with spray-painted color finishes, Rohner’s work is among the many displays at the 2017 Utah Arts Festival at Library Square.

For Rohner, one particular image — a lordly lion surrounded by bright blue flowers — tends to draw much controversy, with the powerful creature subtly emasculated by the soft flowery touch. Male viewers often ask for his images of lions without flowers, Rohner said.

“I’m like, ‘No, you’ve got to get them with flowers,'” he said, “and that’s kind of what I am doing here, kind of trying to gently challenge people.”

The son of Korean and Swiss parents, and raised by an East Indian stepfather, Rohner said his work is reflective of his diverse background. Much of his experience growing up was a battle between being an extrovert and an introvert, he said.

Art was where Rohner found his center, allowing him to focus his quiet personality into a work that would spark a conversation.

Like many of the festival’s artists, Rohner was self-taught, his style developed out of classroom doodles. He eyed a number of opportunities for a formal education and applied to several art academies, but Rohner said he never felt like his personal style was being taught, and he resisted the offer to be rebuilt as an artist in others’ styles.

Without that training, Rohner spent much of his early 20s without direction, unsure of what career to pursue, he said.

“I did jobs that I could bail on at any moment, and I finally realized I was just frightened of this, and I…

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