Mountain Time
    Dana Oldfather at William Rupnik

                 “We Are Mountains” is a show about forces and rhythms, and
    about self-perception. The phrase implies that human experience has no
    natural boundaries, but stretches out around us, coterminous with our
    lives; we’re bigger than we’re equipped to realize, stranded without a
    GPS in the vast landscape of ourselves. Characterized by internal
    contradictions, we eventually embrace many opposite states and
    convictions before the grip of time closes around all difference.
         Painter Dana Oldfather is thinking in particular about the changeable
    currents of emotional experience as she follows her materials ever
    farther into an abstract realm. Beginning her career as a realist,
    Oldfather has gradually reconfigured her approach. A few years ago
    human figures were central to her imagery, often accompanied by
    animals and emblematic objects. Over time these dissolved, first
    becoming simple outlines and then disappearing almost entirely.  
    Currents of paint and color embossed or fractured by long, sharp lines,
    simple shapes, and a remnant of recognizable emotional content are her
    enduring subjects, enlivened by an increasingly sure command of
    painterly dynamics. Certain abstract forms also preoccupy her, including
    the numerous, carefully rendered small circles that bubble across the
    surfaces of recent oil on panel works.
         In the 2010 painting “Ticker Tape Morning” these move in front of a
    swirling brushy background; gentle blue-gray tones wash across loose
    ring-shaped strokes. The interior of the painting moves from back to front
    and side to side, flowing outward toward the viewer, rather than away,
    into the depths – or back into the bright light that seems to linger behind
    the imagery. Just at the outer skin of the painting, near the middle of the
    composition, sharply focused dark lines and small organic shapes cluster
    together and insist on their presence.
         Oldfather chooses celebratory, tasty titles (“Parade,” “Frosting”) to
    describe the hopeful tone of these paintings which, as she writes, “reflect
    the joy and anxiety that lives in my heart.”  Neutral, pastel shades and
    decorative-seeming motifs reminiscent of 1960’s era commercial design
    perhaps serve a larger project, which begins by evoking the
    effervescence of American culture, somewhat in the manner of New York
    artists like Nina Bovasso and Diana Cooper. Not that a painting like
    “Frosting” isn’t genuinely carefree as well as deliberately superficial (we’
    re talking about frosting, after all) --  but there’s also cake in these works,
    so to speak -- a heaping forkful of substance both hidden and implied by
    Oldfather’s nearly obsessive attention to surfaces. This more serious
    content is a little hard to pin down. It has something to do with the anxiety
    she mentions, yet these aren’t worried paintings; she also remarks that
    the contrasting elements she weaves together mirror the struggle to
    reconcile each day’s contradictions. It seems right to say her overall
    mode is a kind of reenactment of the unevenness of a normal emotional
    range, unspooling the tightness of moods and daily events, creased with
    the folds of sudden decision and pocked with desire.
         Oldfather is self-taught as a painter, though raised in a family of
    artists and immersed in the arts from childhood. For ten years she’s
    worked as a graphic designer and publicist at Cleveland’s Bonfoey
    Gallery, while holding down a second job for almost as long at a busy bar-
    restaurant in Willoughby. She doesn’t have much free time, but when she
    does one of the things she enjoys is kite-flying – an obvious source for
    her recent imagery, as well as an activity that parallels the work of an
    artist. It’s hard to tell whether the elemental medium is water or air, that
    dampens Oldfather’s kite-string lines as they cut across her panels; but
    probably Cleveland’s thick atmosphere is the best candidate, especially
    near the Flats where she lives. Tossing a line into such a sky, turbulent
    or blank by turns, is a lot like pulling the flat side of a small brush across
    a field of dull color and finding the mind grown suddenly taut, more alive
    as an idea gusts behind it. Painting always begins as a matter of
    correspondences, an alchemy proposing one substance as the
    equivalent of another, mixing and matching realities. It can also be one of
    the ways we pinpoint our location, making a map of our mountains.
    Oldfather’s paintings are studies of the self’s topography.
Dana Oldfather, 2010
douglas max utter