By D. DOMINICK LOMBARDI January, 2022
The art of Donald Fodness is bold, strange, and even nightmarish at times. Yet, there is this lingering sense of redemption in the unending flow of outrageous representations of frenzied facts, presented as anywhere between foul to fanciful. I met this complex artist at a talk I was giving at the Ent Center for the Arts, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, this past September. Within days, I am in Denver at two group exhibitions he was part of, later making a stop at his labyrinth of studios nestled between various gardens that includes four outdoor enclosures and a buoyant tree-house, declaring his art and life as fully intertwined.
Whether he employs pencil on paper, or creates by way of painting, collage, assemblage or installation, the manipulation of our contemporary culture brazenly wallows in the wizardry of Fodness. Looking back at my time with the artist, I became compelled to follow up, as I attempt to unravel his way of thinking and creating, how he selects his media, what may inspire him and how he brings it all together.
DDL: One of the first things I noticed about your art is the diversity of your approaches, how it almost looks like three or four different people are creating in various ways. Then I step back and there is this almost torrid tone to the overlapping narratives. One common thread, if you can call it that, is the way you take from life, as with pre-existing ceramic mugs, album jackets, news headlines etc.; and re-present them, filtered through equal parts of your conscious and subconscious thoughts. What usually comes first, the object or the intent?
DF: Often the object comes first. If I have an immediate attraction or repulsion to an object I collect it, especially if it provokes thoughts and ideas. Many are talismans that protect the creative energy of my life and studio. My creative practice very much centers on the idea of creative play – a type of play that I take very seriously. Often, it is just a matter of arranging objects and creating relationships. Other times it is altering the form of an object. The idea of contingency has emerged from these acts. The final result is contingent on a set of initial conditions that form through the process of creative play, as a feedback loop emerges where the game of call and response will start to dictate what needs to happen to the work to bring it closer to completion. I often live with a work so long that it starts to take on a worked or obsessive quality. Perhaps this is why it takes on the look of multiple artists’ hands. I believe that we all contain multitudes, and I am less interested in the notion of a fixed finite self, while over time continuities emerge. I believe that environments and circumstances shape us. So perhaps these different versions of self reveal themselves in the work.
Sometimes I think formally, sometimes conceptually, sometimes I am cynical, and sometimes I want to acknowledge the ugly, while other times I want to understand my notions of beauty. We often experience content as a mixture of emotions rather than a simple single feeling. When communicating those feelings, an accurate realm of sensations comes through in my art, a mixture that is felt differently by each receiver or audience member. One thing you mentioned was how there is a mixture of taking from life (as in collage) alongside my own representation of reality. I am fascinated by the way that our brain processes a common experience while simultaneously creating a simulation for ourselves that often relates to and reinforces a constructed narrative of the world or our self. I want that simultaneity to exist in my work. I want my audience to recognize familiarity and even themselves in my work but at the same time feel they are peering into the life of someone else that they have some understanding, knowing they will never fully understand that other person.
DDL: I totally agree. And as we both know, it is especially important in Contemporary Art, to know that art is a multi-dimensional communication between the artist or artists and all individuals in a very diverse audience. One of the first things that attracted me to your work is how you handle kitsch. The common denominators in popular culture, especially from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s can be incredible triggers in pulling the audience in. Talk a little bit about how you work with, and sometimes against, kitsch.
DF: I do think there are some of the commonly held ideas around kitsch in contemporary art and art history that I am responding too. Ideas that the pop and funk artists were interested in as far as accessibility. I think you and I both share some of these interests, as well as a recognition of their associations with low culture: the commonplace, class, mass production, the throw away culture. All that being said, I mostly find my interest in these objects and this realm of culture to emanate from a visceral part of myself.
DDL: Can you be more specific examples of what may have steered you in that direction?
DF: I can tell you a couple stories that might best illustrate my personal relationship to the objects and that realm. I spent a part of my life growing up on my dad’s farm in Minnesota, in the summer, helping out on the farm. One year it became clear that he had not cleaned his house at all since the last time my sister and I visited. On the wall he had a sign that read “Pigsty Sweet Pigsty”. My sister and I tried to help him clean his “pigsty”, which included actual motorcycles, disassembled engines, and so much dirty laundry that the actual floor was not visible throughout the house. While cleaning, we found oddities such as the invisible woman, a Nazi war helmet, unopened rare beers, dead rodents, and weapons; there was a period in my life that my dad let us throw Chinese stars and knives, as well as shoot dart guns in the house.
My dad’s next-door neighbor, which was about a half-mile away, was my grandma and grandpa’s farmhouse that my grandfather built, and where my dad spent his childhood. My grandparents grew up during the great depression, and were very resourceful, which meant they kept a lot of stuff. In addition to being a farmer, my grandpa was also an auctioneer and he often filled his Quonset huts and basement with unique objects that didn't sell at the auction. My grandma took on the upstairs, second story as her project, a space that was once occupied by my aunt Roxy who died in a car accident before I was born. As a result of how traumatic this was for my grandma, that space was left exactly as it was when Roxy died – it was like a time capsule of a woman’s life that ended in 1972. While my grandma made efforts to preserve this space as it once was when Roxy used it, it also served as sacred ground for my grandma who was somewhat of a shopaholic, as she would hide years and years worth of retail sale purchases there. The upstairs was off limits to us grandkids, and because of that, it became even more attractive to visit and fantasize about. Sometimes I would sneak up there and find rock albums, psychedelic posters, playgirl magazines, used roaches in the ashtray that once touched my aunt’s lips, all right along brand new packaged toys on clearance, domestic goods, recently outdated clothing from shopping mall department stores etc. It was like the old and the new, the personal and the impersonal, compressed into a brick. After my grandpa passed away my grandma moved to one of the nearby towns with a population of just a few thousand. Much of this stuff was left in the old farmhouse out of convenience. Eventually my dad bulldozed this entire house with all of that remaining stuff inside, and built a new house right next to it. I believe that objects can often carry emotive content so I see my dad’s act as literally burying his emotions.
DDL: I believe that too, as they can easily trigger emotions. Those objects can also make you feel like an intruder, which is a very odd feeling to have in the studio. Before we end our conversation, I want to get a bit more into your installations, and how you employ light so successfully, especially to create certain moods. I’m guessing that it is a progression from your more elaborate assemblages such as Yard Hero (From the Man with the Golden Arm) (2017).
DF: Actually, it’s the other way around. I don’t really do those installation/environments in galleries much anymore – they were birthed by formalizing what I naturally do in my studio. The installations were always related to narrative, and the individual sculptures like Yard Hero was an extracted “character” from the installation/environment – or rather, an exploration in “character study”. I have been very intentional about lighting in the installations. I treated the installations like paintings that were lit from within by their own means. I am still working on my installation/environment practice but keeping it private; only experienced by those that visit my studio compound rather than a formalized experience for the gallery.
I appreciate what you mentioned about feeling like an intruder. This is something I very much want my viewers to feel. I want them to both recognize themselves in some element of the work while also recognizing that they are external to it. I use pop culture, and everyday detritus to draw my audience in. I also create scenarios for people to have a phenomenological awareness of themselves in relation to my creation, but I also intentionally make the work hermitic so the viewer realizes they have stumbled in the manifestation of someone else’s head. Everything I do in my work has meaning and reason, to me. I want that feeling to come across even if the logic feels indecipherable.
DDL: I definitely see that in your work, it’s a visceral experience for sure. I’d like to end our discussion with your thoughts on the future, what you see, if you can articulate it, as either what your working on at the moment or any plans for future projects or exhibitions.
DF: I think the COVID pandemic has pushed a lot of artists, and people in general, to reevaluate their lifestyles and priorities. For artists, it has been an opportunity to change directions and make new work etc., as I have developed a strong interest in text and I see myself furthering that interest. I am also beginning to re-explore an old interest of mine in utility, especially furniture. My furniture work evolved to embrace futility and became very absurd. The ultimate expression of this was my Dysfunctional Multitool series, which was way more sculpture than furniture, though it referenced furniture and utility. I want to reign that back in and make functional objects again. I have also become less interested in the type of art world that I learned about in school and trying to lean into creative endeavors that may only satisfy my own personal growth and meaning. WM
D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator based in New York. A 45-Year retrospective of his art, which was curated by T. Michael Martin, has traveled from the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at MSU in Western Kentucky in 2019, to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS in Colorado Springs in 2021 – next moving to the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, New York in February, 2022. Some of his writing credits include the New Art Examiner (1997-98), ARTnews (1997), The New York Times (1998-2005), Juxtapoz (2002), Art in Asia (2007-2009), The Huffington Post (2012-2018), ARTES (2016-present), CultureCatch (2006-present), and dArt International magazine (2005-present). Lombardi’s most recent curatorial projects are “LandX” for Red fox Contemporary in Pound Ridge, NY (2021), “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” for the Hampden Gallery at UMASS Amherst, MA, (2020) and “I Am…” for the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL, (2020). Contributor portrait by Danh Nguyen.view all articles from this author