This July we are featuring new work by artist Gioia Fonda. I Am A Fax Machine will showcase her mixed media pieces.
Fonda produced some lovely, thoughtful responses to my prodding questions about her herself. Enjoy!
How long have you been making art?
“It is hard to put a year on this. My mom is an artist so I always had my hands in something. It was just another thing to do around the house. She didn’t push it on me but she never discouraged me from making a mess. She always had a studio and she’d often give me a corner of it. I would color in blueprints that my dad brought home from work. She tried to sign me up for music lessons or after school sports every now and then but I never took to it, so no soccer trophies for me, but I would often win prizes in art competitions. In high school I didn’t really make “art” per se. I didn’t like the one art instructor so I did other things like yearbook, student government, dance and theatre. I also wrote a lot, read a bunch and poured most of my creative energy into my outer appearance. I had every hair color you could imagine and was one of those everyday-is-Halloween sort of kids. As far as I was concerned, not being into horses or cowboys, there just wasn’t a lot else to do in Oakdale. I took off one year between high school and college, and moved to Ohio. It was a dismal time. I worked temp jobs in factories, did some house cleaning/care-taking and saw what life without college could look like. By the time I got to art school I was an extremely motivated student. I feel like making art is something I can’t really help. That’s not to say that everything I make is “Art” but that if you put me in a desk job I’ll end up making something out of paperclips or exploiting the copy machine, if you hand me a rake I’ll eventually start scratching patterns in the dirt. It is just my way of functioning.”
A Teaser of Fonda's Work
Why did you choose California College of Art and Crafts and the School of Visual Arts for your degrees?
“My mother attended CCA(C) in the 1950′s, dropped out and then came back and finished in the 60′s. Growing up in Alameda we would frequently pass by both CCA and UC Berkeley. I was told that’s where mommy went and that’s where daddy went to college, so I was always aware of it. My dad would talk about his experiences there as tough, my mom would describe her experiences at school as mind expanding. I’m certain that both places were both things to both of them. Berkeley was teeming with people and seemingly sprawling. CCAC just looked like a clump of trees behind a wall. It was full of mystery. I considered lots of different art schools but I think I went with CCA because it was where I wanted to be, in the East Bay, and it was very small. We visited the campus and it just felt like a place I could call home and I truly did. I’m extremely fond of my time at that school. That mysterious clump of trees is actually a cocoon for creative growth. It was rigorous yet full of freedom. The class sizes were very small but still competitive. The instructors were a great mix of contradictions which helped me think for myself. They were a wise and talented bunch that pretty much only talked about the making art end of things and not the business or career side. I continue to use the third C in the name of the school because we did talk about the formal aspects of our work constantly. The craft of what we were making was always important. I felt that the instructors really wanted me to find my own language and that they gave me the tools to express well whatever I could conjure. It was expensive but I believe I soaked up so much there that I probably got my money’s worth. I’m guessing that things are probably a bit different now with the majority of the action on the SF campus, but as far as I can tell it still seems to be a great school.
SVA is another story. I moved to New York to go to grad school but lived there for a year prior to attending. It just seemed like the next logical step. I applied to pretty much all the fine arts grad programs in NYC. I don’t know exactly how it is now but back then applying to grad school was sort of expensive and labor intensive, especially when working with limited time and budget. Not only were there application fees but you had to send in slides, sometimes in carousels, which weren’t returned. Each school has it’s pros and cons. Some have great studios but tired faculty. Some have famous faculty but less great studios. Some programs are very small which provides a different kind of dialogue and less networking. Some are less expensive, some are more expensive etc. There are a bunch of factors to consider. You do what you can to pick the school but they are also in the business of picking you. I was accepted to SVA so that is where I went. Regardless of which school you attend, the real education is just living in NYC. The city is a pressure cooker. It feels like every other person is there trying to stake their claim and get noticed. There are a lot of people there, which means there are a lot of talented people there. It is a very humbling experience. SVA is quite the opposite of CCA. There are some big name folks on the faculty, startign with the director David Shirey, Jackie Windsor, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Luccio Pozzi, Jessica Stockholder, Petah Coyne, Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt. The list goes on and on. Some were great instructors, some were not. All of them were people that have managed to navigate an art career in New York City (or worldwide) and could model what that looks like for you. They would invite you to parties, tell you which openings to go to, which shows to see, offer advice on how to make your work more appealing to galleries, hook you up with a studio assistant gig etc. We were also expected to read a lot of art theory and be able to contextualize what we saw or what we made in that language. A lot of it was about networking. Sometimes we got around to talking about the art in the studio. This is a very different conversation than what we were talking about at CCA(C). I think I would be a better grad student now than I was back then. I don’t think I really quite understood what it was all about. I still wanted to talk about how to make a good painting and that just wasn’t on the agenda anymore, it didn’t seem to matter one way or another. It was more about whether you could convince someone that what you were doing was relevant, sellable or groundbreaking. My favorites to work with were Jerry Saltz, Gary Stephan, Sam Cady and Polly Apfelbaum. They were honest but still fun. They seemed to get me and my work or at least approached my studio with interest. It was a different sort of educational experience. I don’t hold it as close to my heart but I’m still figuring it out and learning from it 12 years later, so I guess that says it was pretty good after all.”
A Teaser of Fonda's Work
Fonda has been teaching at Sacramento City College since 2005. Her specialty is 2-D studies.
“I teach, which is also very fun and challenging, but sometimes makes me feel old. I try to teach people how to paint. They ask good questions sometimes and I hear their questions and my answers while I’m working in my studio. Teaching sort of keeps me honest and sharp and I’m compelled to walk my talk. The more I think about it, the more painting strikes me as a sort of bizarre thing to do. When I was in school in the early 90′s the dialogue was all about “painting is dead”. That was scary thing to hear at a very formative time when I was paying a lot of money to learn how to paint, it is no wonder I defected to other media. Now I realize they’ve tried to declare painting dead a bunch of times, before and since. It won’t ever really die, it is something humans do and have always done. That said, we create a lot of other ways now too. I’m aware that my mode of production is woefully out of step with our time. I think computers and technology are pretty cool, and I acknowledge that some people are able to use a mouse like a brush, but that is not how I feel in front of a computer. I can’t fathom how sitting at a desk, clicking away will ever make me feel the way I do in my studio with my materials all around me. In that way I myself feel like a fax machine. It is still used, it still functions as a communication device but it might be at the end of it’s usefulness, it is a peculiar tool to use these days. I feel peculiar.”
A Teaser of Fonda's Work
Describe your style.
“I work in many media. I always have. (I was an individualized major at CCA(C) which means you can make up your own program- I studied mostly printmaking and metalsmithing but have little of either since). My work is usually quite colorful but the last few years, doing the garbage pile series I limited myself to black, white, grey and tan. I am attracted to tedium. I like to do things that take a very long time, that no one else would want to do or bother doing. I find repetition interesting, because nothing is as much the same as you think. I guess this is one of the reasons I tend to work in series (also it is sort of a printmaking thing).”
Thanks so much Gioia! For more information on Fonda, check out her Verge site. RSVP to our Facebook event here. This show is going to be a lot of fun-don’t miss it!