Artists Tobias Fike and Donald Fodness Meet in the Middle

Donald Fodness, "Landscape 2020 #2."
Donald Fodness, "Landscape 2020 #2." Donald Fodness
Denver artists Tobias Fike and Donald Fodness run in the same circles; they know each other from grad school and teaching gigs, not to mention the art community at large. And while similar themes run through their work, they’ve never collaborated on a show together — but the shutdowns opened up the opportunity for them to do just that.

With an exhibition schedule wiped clean by the limitations of lockdown, director and curator Jeff Lambson of the University of Colorado Denver’s Emmanuel Gallery found himself juggling an unusually flexible near-future in a space that lay fallow, without art on display. Lambson saw Fike and Fodness, both experienced with mature practices and interested in collaboration, as a likely combination for a show with an experimental bent.
click to enlarge Tobias Fike, "You're Welcome.” - TOBIAS FIKE
Tobias Fike, "You're Welcome.”
Tobias Fike
Lambson saw it as “an opportunity to play and share this as a lab or experiment” that would depend less on his own curatorial skills and more upon a matrix of creative interplay by the artists.

“It’s almost like a sandbox,” he notes. “It’s more spontaneous — almost like a look into studio practice that’s also spontaneously collaborative. If there are no rules, what would you do? Surprising things come up.”

The artists agreed, and so brought their similarities and dissimilarities together while working within the gallery walls. “I jumped at the opportunity,” Fodness says. “Toby and I share a lot of inherent thematic continuities; we both like to use domestic readymades, found objects and play off themes and images of the American West.

The result is Timely and Timeless: Fike and Fodness, an exhibition that opens with a virtual reception on Thursday, January 28.

The show’s title refers to themes that collided naturally in the art laboratory, Lambson adds: It's timely because the work took hold as the pandemic raged on, and its timelessness rises from a shared affinity for autobiographical work and the milieu of the historical American West.
click to enlarge Tobias Fike, "Remembering the Winds Back Home.” - TOBIAS FIKE
Tobias Fike, "Remembering the Winds Back Home.”
Tobias Fike
Fike grew up in Nebraska and Kansas, and Fodness started life on a Minnesota farm before moving to Colorado; like Zebulon Pike emerging from the vast plains to catch sight of what eventually became known as Pikes Peak, they both brought with them a flatlander’s outlook.

Fike, for instance, has long been fascinated by wind, a constant force in his Midwestern life. “The wind is a prominent factor for me about growing up in the Midwest,” he says. Now I live in the foothills, and the wind is just crazy up there. I’ve always looked for ways to reference that in my work.”

For Timely and Timeless, he whipped together the installation "You're Welcome,” a piece he says alludes to “the real wind, by blowing a plastic bag around in a faux wind generated by fans.” It’s a favorite of Lambson’s, who adds: “The wind is an important part of life on the plains that changes when you hit the Rockies — the gateway to the West.”

"Remembering the Winds Back Home,” a second work about Fike’s experience of the wind, incorporates video, capturing his own flat, windblown likeness on the screen while a single fan blows in the face of the projection. These are ideas he's been kicking around off and on over time, and Timely and Timeless presented the perfect opportunity to pull them together.
click to enlarge Donald Fodness, "Landscape 2020 #5" (detail). - DONALD FODNESS
Donald Fodness, "Landscape 2020 #5" (detail).
Donald Fodness
Fodness, on the other hand, is interested in the current landscape of politics, pandemic and anxiety in the months of self-isolation, during which he created "Landscape 2020," a new and previously unexplored series that builds landscapes out of words and phrases from the constant blare of news headlines, rendered in crowded fat letters reminiscent of psychedelic posters of the ’60s.

He says the overall imagery — a slow pan of the plains reaching the mountains, drawn using graphite in black-and-white and gray scales — is “dark and muddy and anxiety-inducing. The landscape looks anxious.

“I wanted to change and make less personal work about an external look at the world news, but actually this is about very personal demographics and moments,” Fodness admits. “As the news became more polarizing, Trump fed into that, and that fed me words: Trump, COVID, finding evidence of life on Venus….”
click to enlarge A tumbleweed element from a collaborative installation by Tobias Fike and Donald Fodness. - TOBIAS FIKE
A tumbleweed element from a collaborative installation by Tobias Fike and Donald Fodness.
Tobias Fike
In the one collaboration between Fike and Fodness, they blend practices and the personal: Fike is projecting imagery recalling the moon and stars of the night skies of his boyhood across one of Fodness’s landscapes shaped by current events. It’s a poignant moment where nostalgia and the present world clash, capturing the timely and the timeless all at once.

Lambson is looking forward to seeing people in the gallery, which is currently open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For added safety in addition to masks and social distancing, the gallery windows will let fresh air inside during visiting hours, explaining that it's "safer than the grocery stores." And think of it as your own chance to view work that isn't work, but a kind of play: "I see it as a freeing chance for them to experiment and see what happens without the pressure of the market that guides shows in a more traditional time."

Timely and Timeless: Fike and Fodness opens with a virtual reception via Zoom on Thursday, January 28, at 6:30 p.m., and runs through March 1. Email [email protected] for an appointment to visit the show in person; for more information about protocols for visits, go the gallery website.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd