Dana Oldfather Interview - The Hopper Prize

Dana Oldfather

Oldfather discusses growing in a family that embraced art, parenting challenges and expectations placed on women & a practice where final works often originate as drawings.

How did you get into making art?
I’ve made paintings since I could hold a paintbrush. My Dad is a painter, and two of his siblings and his mother made paintings too. In our family, art was part of life. If Dad set me up with enough paint and paper it kept me occupied all afternoon and he could get something done in the studio. I had made a substantial group of paintings by high school and was put into art class with kids a year older. By senior year, I was alone in an open studio class. It was like heaven. This early recognition did a lot to bolster my artistic drive and self esteem.

What are you currently working on?
I just finished a big painting (80 x 62 inches) for a November 2020 solo exhibition at The Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, IN, titled “Christina was a Runner but She Decided to Stay”. In part, it is an homage to Andrew Wyeth’s famous “Christina’s World”. But rather than being hindered by a genetic disease, this new Christina is plagued by the bonds of motherhood and home life. She is represented by three figures, each one a she from three different moments of her inner debate about whether or not she should leave, whilst agonizing in the field outside her house. In the end, Christina knows that she would miss her family too dearly to find any real, sustainable happiness away from them.

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
There are overarching themes that interest me: parenting challenges, expectations placed on women, relationships between people, and people and nature. The scenes I paint are moments marked by mania, humor, or awe, the kind of moment that makes one want to cuss.

In our family,
art was part
of life.

Dana Oldfather

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
I do batches of drawings and from these I edit. Drawing allows the idea to set in. Sometimes ideas I think are really good at first don’t hold up for long. Since the paintings are labor intensive, only the stand out images get made; the ones I can keep feeling passionately about over time.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
Ok, so this is a pre-corona answer, ah those were the days: Get home from dropping Arlo off at Kindergarten around 9am. Meditate for 10 minutes. Turn on the lights and apple music stream. Make coffee. Set my alarm for child pick up. Mix paint for 30 mins – 1.5 hours depending on the stage of the painting. Paint til lunch around noonish. 30-40 mins to eat and watch a show (currently the Kominsky Method) or read (currently After the End of Art by Arthur C. Danto). Then back to painting until pick up alarm goes off at 2:45 Mon Wed Fri or 5:30 on Tues Thurs when my Mom picks up Arlo from school and brings him home. Sometimes after dinner I do digital drawings, emails and writing on the couch during family tv/snuggle time before bed. Sometimes I don’t cause snuggles are a pretty high priority and demand my full attention.

Who are your favorite artists?
This list could easily be 100 people long but since I’m trying to keep it short… Peter Doig Adam Lee Christina Quarles Jade Fadojutimi Tahnee Lonsdale Dana Schutz Amy Sillman Katherine Bradford Julie Mehrehtu Stephanie Heinze Michael Williams David Hockney Van Gogh

Where do you go to discover new artists?
I like to visit galleries on the lower east side of Manhattan and Chelsea when I’m in New York. Since I don’t live in the area, neighborhood gallery guides paired up with internet follow up help me do this. In 2019 I was turned on to Dominic Musa (solo exhibition at Helena Anrather Gallery), Zoey Avery Nelson (solo at Rubber Factory) and Trey Abdella (group exhibition at Lyons Wier). When I can’t travel, Instagram is ever present, for better or worse. During this time of physical distancing I certainly can’t travel but I’m currently limiting social media for my mental health. While I appreciate that Instagram can connect me (an artist from somewhere in the middle of the US) to important work being made in New York, or California, London, or Sydney, and with my hopes, connect people in those areas with my work, ultimately, the quick release nature and “community like” incentive weaken, cheapen, and homogenize, original, thorough thought, and support our basest inclination to panic, anger, lust, and rumor. One of the many things I’ve learned from living in the time of Corona Virus is that virtual meeting and digital images are a piss-poor substitute for art and community. I look forward to visiting as many artists and seeing as much artwork as I can in person when all this is over.

Dana Oldfather is an artist based in Cleveland. She was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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