Jan 29

City’s junk becomes a cautionary artistic vision

By Victoria Dalkey, Bee Art Correspondent, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012

Gioia Fonda’s drawings begin as photos of street debris.

You would expect an exhibition at a college gallery to be educational. Gioia Fonda‘s show at the James Kaneko Gallery on the American River College campus is that in spades. Fonda documents every step of the labor-intensive process by which she creates her masterful drawings of piles of junk. This body of work, one of which won the best of show award at last year’s State Fair art show, is a poignant comment on a sad aspect of the economic downturn our city has been experiencing.

She begins with color photos of trash piled up on the street in front of houses in her neighborhood. “Most of the piles,” she writes, “seem to occur when an address has experienced an eviction, a foreclosure or sometimes a death: always some kind of transition.” Like canaries in coal mines, they are harbingers of worse things to come. For Fonda, they represent “not only a reflection of the lending crisis but also a comment on our rampant consumerism and the utter disposability of what we produce and what we buy.”

Gioia Fonda stands in front of her winning state fair art piece, “Pile, With Soccer Ball.” The acrylic on canvas art piece placed first in the 2011 California State Fair and is currently displayed in the Kondos Gallery. Tony Wallin wallintony@yahoo.com

That is scarcely a new idea, but Fonda treats it with a mixture of sadness and a formal integrity that lends the piles a kind of monumental grace. The giant pile with a soccer ball, a potted plant, an old bike and a wheelbarrow that was shown in the State Fair exhibition is on view here and is even more imposing in the smaller Kaneko gallery.

Surrounding it are other drawings, among them “Watering Can,” a triangular pile of trash in which a watering can plays a small but significant role. A trio of drawings on the wall across from it features tangles of netting, worn tires, plastic jugs, and a stuffed toy. These are not only commentaries on our throwaway culture but strong abstractions reminiscent at times of Bauhaus Constructivism.

As interesting as the finished drawings are, a series of works that demonstrate how Fonda arrives at her destinations. She begins with the color photos, then isolates the shapes of the objects in the piles, draws them on paper and cuts them out. These cuttings she piles up and arranges into collages from which she then makes Xerox prints. It’s a lengthy, exacting and time-consuming process, but it pays off with drawings that are both moving and formally elegant.

Accompanying Fonda’s works at the campus gallery is a series of mostly small bronze and ceramic sculptures by Garr Ugalde. Their imagery is both innocent and menacing. Combining childhood toys with instruments of war, they comment on “how quickly the world engages its children in war.” “Beehive Rocker” places a child on a crude rocking horse surrounded by alphabet blocks. A beehive placed over the child’s head adds a surreal note of danger. “Pecker” combines grenades and bird skulls. “Night Mother” gives us a pregnant woman with a birdhouse on her head.

Children’s toys and the use of bird imagery, Ugalde writes, “speak to the ideal of freedom, innocence, and the safety of home.” Though superficially, he notes, they seem to be innocuous, lurking among them are instruments of destruction, many derived from war toys. Ugalde’s small works made of bronze are intricate and imbued with a dark humor that turns disturbing as you note the details in them. A larger piece made of ceramic is blunter. Titled “I Used To Carry a Big Stick, Two,” it gives us a pit bull with a grenade in its mouth sitting on a block covered with an American flag. Small texts cite places in which confrontations have occurred, among them Wounded Knee, Guantánamo and Havana. Ugalde’s work is a nice complement to Fonda’s and the two visions result in a show that is both moving and thought-provoking. Curator Ramsey Harris has done a great job of installing the show.

What: Gioia Fonda lends a monumental grace to piles of refuse that she sees as “a comment on our rampant consumerism and the utter disposability of what we produce and what we buy.” A complementary exhibit of small bronze and ceramic sculptures comes from Garr Ugalde. His imagery is both innocent and menacing, a comment on “how quickly the world engages its children in war.”
Where: James Kaneko Gallery, Room 503, American River College, 4700 College Oak Drive, Sacramento
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, or by appointment, through Feb. 8
Cost: Free
Contact: (916) 484-8399

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Also see: Art instructor, Gioia Fonda wins State Fair competition

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