Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Art Space Talk: Donald Fodness

Donald Fodness utilizes seemingly benign and enticing imagery to draw his audience into a layered and unsettling world of complexities. His work is full of cliche, visual puns, and juvenile humor. For Donald this humor parallels the absurdity of contemporary life. His work deals with social imprinting, the loss of innocence, image abundance, and personal experience.

Confabulation: Driving with Mom by Donald Fodness

Brian Sherwin: Donald, you attended the University of Illinois and the University of Colorado. Can you tell us about your academic years? Did you have any influential instructors?

Donald Fodness: I am still earning an MFA at CU Boulder, and working with both Alvin Gregorio and Francoise Dureese. Both painters have different styles but each have aspects that I connect to and both have expanded views of painting. While at the University of Illinois I studied Art History and had some high caliber professors such as Jonathan Fineberg, Anne Hedeman, Dana Rush, Jordana Mendelson, and Eun Young Jung all of which have introduced me to great art, and have shaped my understanding of art.

Also while at the University of Illinois I worked as a guard at the University art Museum, and would spend hours studying the art; some of the works that I became familiar with and that have stuck with me are Peter Saul’s "Typical Saigon", Vernon Fisher’s "Bikini Island", and "Suffering Softens Stones" by Yves Tanguy.

Confabulation: Playing with Uncle by Donald Fodness

BS: Donald you are known for creating works that are deceptive in that they explore a detailed and complex world of social issues that mirror our own. Further investigation of these works reveal the confusion of society. What are the social implications of your work?

DF: I would say that that confusion is an important aspect to the work. I am not sure that any of these issues really get resolved or become clear in the work as much as they are vented among a cast of other issues. These worlds are uncomfortable messes, though they have cute moments of optimism, they are also pessimistic and sarcastic.

BS: Do you explore your life experiences with these works? In a sense, would you say that your work is a form of confession?

DF: Yes, my work is a bit like variations on "The Picture of Dorian Grey" that I can identify with and that I think others can identify with as well. These works deal with my frustrations with my own role in the world’s problems, my role as a consumer, and my own inconsistencies and shortcomings. The images have multiple layers like geological strata, and at one level I do insert personal narratives sandwiching them along pop icons, and everyday objects. While these images are important to me in terms of being my access point into understanding value systems, social structures, and human behavior, I try to sneak these images in because I want the work to have enough open endedness that it is as much about the viewer as it is me.
Hang On Kitty by Donald Fodness

BS: Can you tell us more about your early years-- specific memories that have allowed you to expand on the art that your create today?

DF: 2 stories:

The last time I saw my Grandpa John alive was when I was about eight years old. I was staying with him for a short time during one of my summer breaks. Grandpa had just moved "into town" from the farm he had rented, and worked on, for about thirty years. His new location was a small weathered house in a town of about five hundred people and one could easily walk to the grocery store from his house. One nice morning I had finished playing with my cousin and entered Grandpa’s kitchen through the back door where he met me and requested that I go to the grocery store to get him a loaf of bread. I complained about the chore, and specifically stated "I don-wanna go". Grandpa immediately pulled open a cabinet drawer causing the silverware to clank and drew out a large butcher knife. He pinned me up to the counter holding the knife against my face and told me I would "go to the store or else"… I went to the store. The next time I saw him, about a year later, was at his funeral; he died of a heart attack.

On my dad’s side both my Grandpa Milo and Grandma Ann had extreme hording tendencies and kept entire segments of their old farm house packed full of collected stuff. These collections ranged from outdated domestic goods, and surplus of practical utility, to precious and rare collectibles such as zap comics, baseball cards and new cowboy boots, to sentimental objects and silk flower arrangements. In "the upstairs" buried underneath Grandma’s collection was my Aunt Roxy’s bedroom left just the way it was when she prematurely passed away in a car accident (she died before I was born, and my dad has shared with me an elaborate conspiracy about how my uncles killed her). Grandma stored her collection in "the upstairs" and Grandpa kept his in "the downstairs"; the only real place for living was on the ground level. Both the basement and the second floor had a literal footpath paved through piles of stuff and both my grandparents knew if, and where, something was stored deep inside each of their collection. While both "the upstairs" and "the downstairs" were equally packed full of stuff, Grandpa had the advantage; he was an auctioneer to supplement his farming income. If something did not sell at auction he would bring it home and fill up the basement, when that filled up he started filling up Quonset huts, and when those were full he just dropped stuff in the yard.

I suspect that their tendency to do this may have come from living through the depression, but also a means of survival in the rural Midwest. Either way the visual and spacial understanding of the way they organized their lives has had as much impact on my aesthetic roots as the experiences I have mentioned about my dad, and those of tight living with my large mixed family in Colorado.
Sunflower Snowman by Donald Fodness

BS: What else has influenced you? Are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements? Music?

DF: I am interested in Funk Art and The Hairy Who (HC Westermann, Ed Paschke, Jim Nutt, Robert Arneson…) I also like Peter Saul, Robert Crumb, Christian Schumann, and Trenton Doyle Hancock. Some of the old masters that have informed me are Hieronymus Bosch and Giuseppe Arcimboldo .

Outside of art I am more influenced by architecture than music. I have long been interested in alternative architecture, specifically the Earthship which is a self sufficient house built out of tires and pop cans. While I like the ethical aspect to reusing materials, I am also interested in ideas of building that challenge the mainstream way houses are currently being built. I have also worked for Paolo Soleri at Cosanti in Scottsdale, Arizona; and I have experience in architectural restoration and historic preservation.

BS: Tell us about your process... how do these works come into being-- imagine that there is a blank surface before you-- how do you start?

DF: I don’t work much with a blank canvas, I instead need some sort of system to work against. This is one reason I began working with the paint by numbers; I was interested in the contour cells as forms-departure points for improvisation. When I see something that the system suggests I rough it in with graphite then when large portions of the work are roughed in I go back in with ink. For the assemblages and the furniture I can sometimes start with one object and play with it turning it at different angles or juxtaposing it with other objects until I find an arrangement that works.

BS: Donald, what are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your present work?

DF: Currently, I am working on large scale drawings on MDF which I am interested in as a readymade with a particular manila tone and ability to absorb ink. I am also interested in the way the common building material can change subtly over time. In these works I have projected engine schemas as a system of line networks to start the automatic drawings. Over the engine schemas I have superimposed coloring book imagery as an additional layer and system. The complexity of intersecting line networks lend themselves to the automatism. Along with traditional artist mediums to color these images I have been using household goods such as used motor oil, anti freeze, Windex, cough syrup, and bleach. I am also making a walnut wardrobe that incorporates a found cast iron base.
Carousel Horses by Donald Fodness

BS: Will you be involved with any exhibits in 2008?

DF: At the beginning of the year I was showing in Puerto Rico, I am putting together a show in Jakarta, and I have decided to start submitting my furniture work this summer.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the direction that you are taking with it?

DF: I recently started an animation and am thinking of ways to make the work both sculptural and interactive. I am also incorporating furniture imagery into my iconography as a way to have a dialogue between these two aspects of my work.

You can learn more about Donald Fodness by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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