You would probably perk up at the sight of Dana Oldfather’s work. It feels like any other natural reaction from the body, akin to a rush from exposure to sugar or sunshine. The cheerful colors, the hedonistic application—it commands attention and looking feels good.
The Cleveland-based painter’s first solo show in Chicago, titled “Sweet, Sweet, Sweet,” feels like a trip to the ice cream shop. The bright gallery beams with a radiant collection of colorful paintings, made up of lushly layered shapes and textures that are truly easy on the eyes. Juicy slashes of pastel oil paint mingle atop puddles of fluid acrylic. Hard-edged hairpin turns contrast against noodly airbrushed wisps—referencing the ever-popular motif of natural versus manmade forms.
The strongest works happen to be the smallest; the “moon” and “planet” paintings’ objectness and implied individual personalities are accentuated by the paint that forms orbs toward the center of the surface.
The larger paintings on linen have brilliant moments, lovely when viewed in segments, but as a whole feel a bit doted upon and yet somehow lacking, like a spoiled child who doesn’t get enough dad time. It seems like Oldfather is going down a checklist of clever methods of applying paint, an artillery of tricks picked up over years of experimentation. Slow and steady: pool, spray, drag, drip…leaving little room for the chaos of smears, slips, squishes and splashes—the rebellious trademarks of the AbEx generation, whose influence is clear here, though minimized by the artist’s controlled orchestration.
In describing this collection, Oldfather explains that the paintings come out of feelings of dread and anxiety and that they are an attempt to chew up those feelings and spit out something beautiful. It worked. But maybe she could’ve left a little angst. Art seems suspicious without any evidence of a struggle.
That said, the paintings are great or they wouldn’t be worth writing about. And they have been going in the right direction at breakneck speeds over the years. Oldfather is worth keeping an eye on and we’re lucky to have her best new work here, calorie free. (Kelly Reaves)
Through July 2 at Zg Gallery, 300 West Superior