Howard Fonda: Alla Prima Dualities

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Howard Fonda. Untitled. 2007. Oil on canvas, 40″ x 30″.
Photo: Darrell Roberts.

Chicago-based artist Howard Fonda, whose work is collected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, is currently exhibiting a thorough body of work from the past 2 years in a solo show, Nothing to Live Up To, at the Hyde Park Art Center until May 4, 2008.

Self Indulgent Search for Meaning
Howard Fonda. Self Indulgent Search for Meaning. 2007.
Oil and graphite on canvas, 40″ x 36″. Photo: Darrell Roberts.

Fonda’s breadth of work ranges from abstraction of repetitious color lines and flat geometric patterns to nature and unique portraiture. A sincerity is seen in his artwork through his own unique mark making — sometimes inlayed with text or imagery.

Fonda’s text almost never refers to a painting although he did title and sign one painting and then painted the text. His text includes simple statements, ideas, profundity — invented and borrowed — sometimes relating to a specific piece or larger theme.

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Howard Fonda. Untitled. 2008. Oil on canvas, 40″ x 30″.
Photo: Darrell Roberts.

Fonda admires and respects aboriginal textiles — artifacts from which he derives his abstraction. He is interested in the layered history and content of the textiles, and describes them as pure, narrative, and utilitarian abstractions all at the same time.

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Howard Fonda. Untitled. 2007. Oil on canvas, 40″ x 30″.
Photo: Darrell Roberts.

Nothing to Live Up To lives up to the body of work and ideas from people he admires, whether it is an image “appropriated” from the artist Toulouse Lautrec (see image above) or a book he is reading.

Fonda, a painterly artist, whole heatedly embraces his studio time and understands the artist’s need for solitude in his studio: he spends a lot of time trying to figure things out, painting, and editing. Fonda describes his alla prima approach as painting in one sitting — either it works or it doesn’t — and his works show the successes and failures.

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Howard Fonda. Untitled. 2006. Oil on canvas, 40″ x 30″.
Photo: Darrell Roberts.

There is a duality in his work with portraits and nature: they are separate creations but at the same time they work harmoniously with each other. The simultaneous creation and mark marking are seen in every piece, forming a complementary body of work. Fonda’s works hang next to each other down a long narrow gallery that positions the viewer in the center of two walls with artwork on either side. The viewer is set to view a nonverbal story from each painting: There is a script with text, some readable and some not. A portrait tells a story of who is being painted, and when it is positioned next to a nature-based painting, a formal composition of a person and nature appears. Then a more existential contemporary dialogue is formed, and the story changes, the meaning changes, and what the viewer sees and feels changes.

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Howard Fonda. Untitled. 2007. Oil and colored pencil on canvas, 28″ x 36″.
Photo: Darrell Roberts.

Fonda’s work deals with both beauty and ugliness, and he sees the good in both. He takes a painting and makes it a muddy brown, covers up some line drawing, leaves the raw canvas from behind coming through, and then completes his work by painting in gestures on a burnt sienna line drawing. Some people may think that something so spontaneous may seem cliched, but Fonda sees the beauty in the simplicity. Painting for Fonda is rooted in his search for value in all things, and it is his role as an artist to struggle with ontology: he describes his studio practice as saturated with his attempt to understand the human truth, existence, being, and love.

Another Secret
Howard Fonda. Another Secret, detail. 2007. Oil on canvas, 48″ x 36″.
Photo: Darrell Roberts.

A reserved individual, Fonda values all artists and their desire for creating art, whether it is a video, rug, totem, song, or poem. He is a self-confessed “romantic and dork.” He is inspired by love, romance, melancholy, and failure. While he acknowledges painting may be seen as archaic, useless, and “stuck” in too many academic art history discussions that dominate art schools and art making, he believes that the process of painting and paintings themselves can be very valuable and powerful. For Fonda, a humanist, painting is the last remaining philosophical sanctuary.

For more of Howard Fonda’s artwork, click here ArtStyle Blog Gallery.

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