Supernatural Aura: Interview with Dana Oldfather

These works celebrate paint while examining roles of motherhood and femininity. Images of family, friends, and the female figure drive composition. Sometimes scenes are recalled from memory and sometimes I use my camera roll for loose reference. Fantasy and obligation charge and bind domestic environments, giving recent memories new form. The space is similar to that of a hallucination, where one is unsure what is real and what is not. Objects bleed into and become one another. Paint veils, drips, splashes, airbrush passages, and wet into wet oil marks add to the tension and supernatural aura of the scene. Figure, object, and landscape spin out and smear together as the paintings shudder with a pulsing, nervous energy. I use anxious, frenetic mark making to mirror a rushing world distorted by apprehension. These paintings underscore the inherent emotional conflict of parenting young children, and the fragility of comfort and happiness in America today.

by Sarah Mills


You have an extremely unique and interesting style, how did you develop it?

Thank you so much! Previously, I made mixed media, non-objective abstract paintings. Eliminating recognizable subjects helped me concentrate on how I instinctively handle paint. I noticed the difference between what my brush did when it hit the palette and what it did when it hit the canvas. I liked what my hand was doing was I wasn’t trying to make a mark better than what it did when I was trying. I wanted to figure out how to bring that force and confidence to my canvases. In 2017, after developing this mark making for over five years, I decided it was time to bring the figure back in. I’m enjoying using a variety of media, real and abstract objects and reconciling them within the work.


How do you go about starting a new piece?

I sketch ideas - funny or odd things I’ve seen recently or memories that leave a taste in my mouth. Many sketches don’t turn into paintings, but it is a valuable part of my editing process. The paintings take longer to make than they have in the past so I need to be sure the idea can sustain me through to the end.


What is your favorite part of your creative process?

The newest addition to my mixed media arsenal is the airbrush and I’ve really been enjoying it lately. Developmentally, the middle stage of these paintings is an absolute mess. I start using the airbrush near the end of the middle stage when all the discordant bits start to tune in. The airbrush has a magical feel, as though every unexpected mark it makes fits my need exactly. I like the way it’s fuzzy, hinky line establishes pictorial depth. The airbrush also contrasts well with the atmospheric acrylic washes and splashes of the early layers, and the heavy wet into wet oil marks of the later layers of the painting.


Can you tell us more about your subject matter and where you draw inspiration from?

The strangeness of the human condition, predominantly in relationships of motherhood and family, fuels this work. The scenes are domestic but dreamlike and hallucinatory. Figures are tied up and bound together. They are propped up by each other but they are imprisoned by each other as well. Color harmonies and clumsy, endearing forms create joyful moments while frenetic marks remind us of the effort and strain it takes to bring those moments about. In these scenes, happiness is earned at a price.


What are you currently working on?

I’m working on canvases for two out of town solo shows and a two-person show in Cleveland next year. The galleries out of town hold inventory from the exhibitions so I make new work for each show. As I mentioned earlier, the paintings develop slowly now. I finally understand that I can’t get too worried about my schedule. I’m making work for the pleasure of making it.


Your work is so layered and has so many beautiful moments in it, how do you decide when a piece is finished?

Thank you very much!! I appreciate that. What I’ve wanted to see in a finished painting has evolved with my experience for sure. I expect more from the work now. I want to see a certain fullness in each part of the surface before I can stop adding (or removing and adding) more. Even areas that look like big empty spaces have activity. They vibrate with layered texture and color. Once the painting hums I know it’s done.


What is one piece of advice you would share with our readers?

I enjoy reading books about writing. The good ones are full of helpful advice that, in my opinion, can apply to most art forms. I recently finished “Draft No 4” by John McPhee, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and pioneer of creative nonfiction. In a chapter titled ‘Omission’, he discusses the importance of leaving things out of one's writing. As an additive painter, it’s given me a lot to chew on. He advises that “Writing (insert painting) is a selection. If something interests you, it goes in - if not, it stays out. Forget market research. Never market research your writing (painting).” And my favorite from McPhee later in that chapter: that one ought to “Give elbow room to the creative reader (viewer). In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.”