Dana Oldfather's magnificent paintings have played a key role in pushing other artists to expand their boundaries and understanding of abstract artwork. In her latest exhibition, Candyland, at the Galleries at Cleveland State University, Oldfather moves us again with her ability to make us think.
"We are so bombarded with information and the belief of abundance of everything," she says during a walk through the exhibition. "These works are about my very simple domestic life, which is the antithesis of opulence."
In this series of paintings, she starts simply with a photo and then creates a bunch of drawings, narrowing those down to the final idea for a particular piece. In fact, the canvases may contain up to 30 layers -- from being primed four times, to spray paint, to the under-painting in drawing and acrylic, to the point in which the once realistic under-painting becomes more blown out. Oldfather adds and erases elements and successfully tricks our eye into believing the paintings have been created quickly. "[But] mostly I'm an additive painter so things are just kind of getting added and morphing into other stuff, three or four layers of acrylic then a really heavy layer of spray paint and then several layers of oil paint. So they take a long time to make," she says.
In the piece "Clearing Primrose," we are clearly looking at a large painting of a flower. As we regard the field, it becomes evident, however, that we are not. There are two figures, parenthetical to the ongoing battle between humans and nature. It is a painting of chaos through the lens of simple day-to-day life. Oldfather says that the piece is about how she can't keep up with the Joneses. Using abstracted photos and images of her neighbors shoveling their drives, she brings us back into the quotidian.
Candyland came about partially from the three small and three larger paintings in the front and back of the gallery, respectively. "There are pieces on carbon fiber that turned into little candy nuggets," says Oldfather of the two three-painting series titled "Colored Egg for GZ" (the initials of General Zod, Kryptonian villain extraordinaire in Superman) and "Lemonheads" (based on her husband's favorite candy).
"They were non-objective, just like these candy pieces. I'm learning what the paint does and what my brushes do so that I can get to this point and get it to work with a message or with a narrative," she says.
Her son is really into the board game of the same name, incidentally, and Candyland is a game of color recognition. It is wonderful in its simplicity and as we walk through the gallery space Oldfather points out more scenes of meditation as well as pure childhood joy.
"Bubblegun" is based on a photograph of the artist's son Arlo with a friend's child. The young girl on the left is pointing the toy gun at Arlo and shooting bubbles at him. His response is to crouch down and laugh. The colors and zippy lines very much depict the ease of child's play. The lush green grass gives the illusion of being in a dream when life was seemingly easier and we were less bombarded with images and negativity.
In "Night Walls" the deep, purplish pigment with its matte and shininess reminds us of grape flavored rock candy against a midnight blue sky. The figure is lit only by a lemon yellow campfire. "Being city people we are so conditioned to the street lights at night, but when you are camping, the darkness can be so thick it's like you are in a room, like you're in a walled room," she says. "I had an odd feeling of coziness and being enclosed." She successfully translates this experience. Standing in front of the large artwork we get a sense of calm. The opposite feeling is in effect as we come face to face with "Dentist Chair with Stuffies," which harkens us back to the anxiety ridden days of the 1970s, where horrific-looking tools accentuated the dentist chair. These days dentist offices have all sorts of images and screens and stuffed animals to distract children. Here we see the images of the little clown fish, Nemo and a stuffed shark toy, swimming around the chair in hopes of giving comfort.
"Sundays" is a frenetic interpretation of a weekend gathering bringing together images, social media and politics. The rose window is actually the windows of her friends' loft where they partake in fellowship each week. The scene is illuminated with light. Two figures are cooking and talking and yet it looks as if they are draped in cloth. What caught our eye is how very much this painting resembles the infamous and highly moving sculpture "The Ecstacy of Saint Theresa" by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. "Sundays" is a strong piece in both its visual and underlying meaning.
In Candyland, Oldfather effectively pulls us into her life and makes us ponder paring down our own. It's a suggestion you may or may not end up taking in the end, but the journey itself is well worth your time.