Surreal oddities

Donald Fodness’ art is like watching someone’s weird dream

Krystal Baugher | Boulder Weekly

Goldilocks enters the three bears’ home with an excited curiosity; she sneaks around knowing she doesn’t quite fit in, but enjoys the exploration nonetheless.

That interactive narrative is exactly what University of Colorado Boulder art school alum Donald Fodness seeks from his viewers.

“I want people to be able to bring themselves to the work and enter the narrative in their own way, so it’s interactive, but at the same time they feel like they’re in someone else’s house — like entering someone else’s brain,” Fodness says.

Fodness was born in Minnesota, but moved to a farm in northern Colorado as a kid, then found his way to a career in art after high school by working in a bronze-casting foundry.

“I didn’t like a lot of the stuff we were casting and I was curious as to how it fit in the world and the importance of it, so I started taking art history classes,” he says.

This led to a degree in art history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. After a series of transitions, Fodness was accepted into CU’s master of fine arts program, where he earned his degree in painting.

Much of his work uses “leftover” materials like discarded items from thrift stores, garage sales and dumpsters — consumption reduced, reused and recycled in striking, eclectic, color-bursting scenes. The moods he creates offer a morbid fascination into the weird and the well-crafted. Within these large installations, every unearthed piece he utilizes is meticulously thought through, down to the placement of plastic bottles and where the wires hang off the wall. The worlds he builds are teeming with the messy and the surreal; it’s like what would happen if one experienced a physical thought explosion, mystic dream-vomit that makes the audience feel uneasy and enraptured at the same time.

Now he, along with several other CU MFA alums (including Rebecca Vaughan and Conor King), are cur rent resident artists at RedLine in Denver. It’s a two- to three-year residency program where approximately 15-20 artists work. They pay a small stipend for a studio space and mentoring.

“It’s like being in grad school without all the pressure,” Fodness says.

RedLine is also about community activism. It is a space designed to make contemporary art more accessible to the public. Studios have open hours where anyone is welcome to come in and watch the artists at work. Each resident is required to put in two hours of community education work each week.

Fodness, who works in multiple mediums now, from 2-D drawings and paintings to 3-D sculpture to video and animation, has been at the RedLine a month and already has a piece in “AU: Exchange,” opening Nov. 11.

Each artist was given 2.5 grams of gold that they could either sell, trade or use in any manner to create a piece of work. The exhibition is intended to show the relationship of the artists to the material and the economy, and reveal the open nature of gold in both form and concept. Fodness sold his 2.5 grams of real gold to buy that amount in fake gold.

His work in the “AU: Exchange” show is a 2-D black and white drawing of two distorted characters set over a desolate landscape. Just a touch of gold — a dollar-sign sunrise — is a central element in the work.

The same night as the “AU: Exchange” opening, Nov. 11, Fodness will be participating in “White Space” at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of a fundraiser for educational programming at the museum where six artists are given an Eames rocker to transform into a work of art in front of an audience. People bid on the art while the work.

Fodness has lived and worked as an artist in Colorado for several years, and understands the positives and negatives of the state.

“Not only does the Colorado art world have less pressure and less structure than places that have a bit more attention, but it also has less cultural and arts-related activity than, say, L.A. or New York,” Fodness says.

“The West, physically, has a lot of space, and that can be good, depending on the type of artist you are. The connections here are tight-knit, intimate, friendly and engaging.”

His work mixes the grotesque and the surreal with fine-crafted beauty; it’s like entering someone else’s dream world and realizing how much more is out there. It’s trippy, it’s gorgeous, but it’s also really weird.


On the Bill

Donald Fodness’ art will be on display at RedLine from Nov. 11 to Jan. 1. A public reception happens from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11. 2350 Arapahoe St., Denver, 303-296-4448. He will also participate in the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art’s “White Space” event on Friday, Nov. 11, at 6:30 p.m. 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122.