This fall, nationally and internationally renowned Cleveland-based painter Dana Oldfather is presenting new work with solo exhibitions in Cleveland and Columbus. The self-taught Oldfather returns to the Bonfoey Gallery this weekend for Soft Armor, a new exhibition including recent paintings and a site-specific installation. Just weeks ago, she debuted Too Soft, a collection of new, large paintings at Angela Melaca Gallery in Columbus. Soft Armor is Oldfather's first solo show with Bonfoey, and her first solo exhibition in Cleveland in nearly five years.
Oldfather's paintings present a new perspective on abstraction in contemporary art. Her ambiguous works subtly highlight the often overlooked similarities between the organic and mechanical, the digital and analog, the figurative and abstract. The result is something both intimately familiar and entirely new.
"Reacting to the startling juxtaposition of the natural and manmade world that we move through each day, I am drawn to the combination of wild and tamed, sweet and dangerous, solid and ephemeral, flesh and machine, agricultural and technological," Oldfather explains in her artist statement. "I'm inspired by the shape of landmasses, lakes and rock formations, interstellar events and anomalies, as well as figurative elements like toes, knees, ribs, collarbones, shoulders and necklines. Conversely, manmade objects such as industrial building structures, bridges, and plumbing, iPods and hardware innards contribute imagery to my shape-making. Urban industry and infrastructure underpins organic material. This combination of diametric elements results in a bio-mechanical environment and organism as one, something that has no birth or death and is beginning to show signs of autonomy."
"Each exhibition will have two large paintings on linen made with brushes that vary from 1/16 of an inch to 8 inches wide," Oldfather revealed on her blog in July (danaoldfatherpainting.blogspot.com). "There are far more layers in the new work and I'm working with more glazes and thinner paint."
At Bonfoey, Oldfather returns to familiar territory. It isn't just her gallery representation in Cleveland. The 122-year-old gallery was once her employer.
"In my early 20s, following a failed paralegal career, I came to the Bonfoey Gallery looking for a job," reflects Oldfather. "As a lifelong painter, and a self taught artist, I brought overwhelming passion for visual arts, but underwhelming experience in the field. Richard Moore and Olga Merela introduced me to how a commercial gallery (and the Cleveland art scene) operates when they hired me as a framer in 2000."
The relationship between Oldfather and Bonfoey has evolved greatly since its humble beginning 15 years ago.
"In 2003, a PR and graphic design position opened up and I convinced them to put my previous office experience to use," she continues. "This promotion gave me the opportunity to see the inner workings of a large, established gallery, lessons I consider a boon to the business aspects of my painting career."
Though she continued to learn under the guidance of her mentors at Bonfoey, it wasn't until 2008 that Bonfoey found the perfect opportunity to showcase her paintings.
"Marcia Hall, the gallery director, and Diane Schaffstein, the assistant director, included me in a three-person exhibition alongside Laura Sanders and Susan Danko," Oldfather says. "That initial gallery spotlight did much to establish my work in Cleveland. Since then Bonfoey Gallery has been my local representation and a tireless champion of my artwork. Richard Moore, Olga Merela and Marcia Hall took a chance on both me and my paintings and I will never forget that."
Oldfather left her position with the gallery to raise her young son, Arlo, (with her husband, Randall Darling Jr.) and pursue creative endeavors as her career began to take of. The Bonfoey Gallery was happy to see Oldfather's success and continues to offer her support.
Aside from the Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland, Oldfather's work is represented by Angela Meleca Gallery in Columbus, Library Street Collective in Detroit and RB Stevenson Gallery in La Jolla, California. Her paintings reside in numerous public and private collections including the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, Eaton Corporate Headquarters, Cleveland Clinic (and its Intercontinental Hotel), Jones Day, Progressive, American Greetings, Westin Hotel, First Energy, Miami University, University of Toledo, the Pizzuti Collection and more. In 2013, she was awarded an Individual Excellence Award by the Ohio Arts Council.
Oldfather describes her work "as a way of defying the void and defining the 'home.' I create systems of eroded, kneaded, knotted, laced up, scaffolded space in a state of simultaneous deterioration, support, and rebuild. Making these paintings and installation was a therapeutic exercise, a way to use my hands to work through anxiety. I transferred tension into physical objects, spinning lacey ephemera like a cocoon."
Dana Oldfather's Soft Armor opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday. The exhibition remains on view in Bonfoey's street and lower level galleries through Oct. 31. Too Soft remains on view through Oct. 31 at Angela Meleca Gallery in Columbus.