Artist Tomory Dodge's work is currently featured at the Pizzuti Collection.
Meet contemporary artist Tomory Dodge, whose work is currently featured at the Pizzuti Collection in the Short North. Columbus Monthly writer Tristan Eden interviewed Dodge, who's based in Los Angeles, about how he works and what sparks his creative process.
Tomory Dodge is getting back to work. His most recent show, a massive exhibition at CRG Gallery in New York City, ran from Nov. 6 to Dec. 13 and featured 14 new pieces-mostly very large paintings-all created in 2014. "It was a huge body of work," Dodge tells me over the phone from his studio in East Los Angeles. After taking some time off at the end of the year, Dodge's schedule is buzzing again. He has an exhibition at the Pizzuti Collection until the end of June. In April, a show of works on paper opens at the Monica De Cardenas Gallery in Lugano, Switzerland. And in October his next large-painting exhibition goes up at ACME Gallery in Los Angeles.
"I'm in the studio every day," Dodge says. "I paint in the morning, in the afternoon I'll do drawing or work on collages." When Dodge starts a painting, he has an idea of what he's trying to do and what he's trying to work with, he says. But that original idea usually changes. "Sometimes the shifts will be really drastic," Dodge says. "The paintings will really change appearance, color, palette, everything." Dodge finds this fluid way of working exciting. "It's become this process of discovery," he says. "Going places that I hadn't thought of before, finding ways to push myself into new directions."
18 color water-based and enamel screenprint on Coventry Rag, 35 1/4 x 31 3/4 in.
Dodge, 40, was born in Denver, Colorado. His mom was a painter, and his parents were very supportive of the arts. Painting is just something he always did. "Around 12 or 13, I realized it was what I enjoy doing the most." Dodge got his undergraduate degree in 1998 from the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2002, after living in Denver and Seattle, Dodge began graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts. He graduated in 2004 with a master of fine arts degree and has lived in Los Angeles since. His home is just a 15-minute drive from his studio.
"L.A. is a great place to work as an artist," he says. "For as big of a city as it is, it's easy to get away and shut yourself away from distraction, if you want to." I ask him if the vibe of Los Angeles has had an impact on his paintings, which are colorful and often lush or jagged. "It's hard to talk about if it has, in a visual way," Dodge says. "I'm assuming it has… Maybe a sense of light in the early work, and the palette in the later work." But he says a sense of space is often present in his paintings. "I don't know if it's specific to L.A., but it feels sort of western."
During his time at CalArts, Dodge began to attract the attention of art dealers and collectors, including Columbus' Ron Pizzuti, who first noticed Dodge's work on a visit to CRG Gallery. "Ron Pizzuti has been collecting my work for a decade, since 2006 or so," Dodge says. "It's a big slice of my work." Indeed, the Pizzutis, who have been collecting art for 40 years, have pieces from every stage of Dodge's career. "Ron has this incredible interest in abstraction," says Greer Pagano, assistant curator at the Pizzuti Collection. He's also interested in supporting young, emerging artists, she adds. "I recently had the opportunity to meet Tomory and am thrilled to welcome him to Columbus," Ron Pizzuti said in a written statement. "He is the real thing and delivers work that is beyond his years."
A selection of Pizzuti's collection of Dodge's work is now on exhibition within NOW-ISM: Abstraction Today, a collective show at Pizzuti Collection. The exhibition features two of Dodge's most recent paintings from last November's CRG show, as well as earlier prints, collages and watercolors. In addition to Dodge, NOW-ISM also features work by a loose group of young artists also working in abstraction--and also based in California. "As [Pizzuti Collection curator and director] Rebecca Ibel and I worked together on NOW-ISM we were reminded of the strength of the work coming out of California," Pizzuti wrote. "Our exhibition within an exhibition of Tomory Dodge's fits in brilliantly with the cool and smart paintings by other Los Angeles upstarts on view in our galleries." These artists, including Sarah Cain, Heather Gwen Martin, Brian Porray and Dion Johnson, all have a "bright way of painting," Pagano says. "It's new and fresh and unlike anything that's been done before."The Future, 2010
Oil on canvas in two parts, 78 x 156 in.
Dodge's work is striking. Often oversized, his paintings are colorful, concerned with space and dimension and carefully arranged, sometimes sharp-lined but relaxed. "It would be referred to as abstract painting," Dodge says. "But there are spatial and figurative references to it too." Dodge's earlier work-when he was newer to California-was more representational than his current paintings. "A lot of that work was inspired by things I'd see out in the desert," Dodge says. "Space that's not truly wilderness-people's presence is really felt-but it doesn't really feel like ordered space." Since those early paintings, "the work's become less literal," he says. "I'm not painting shot-up cars anymore." Still, strong thematic trends are present in his work, as is an obvious interest in the physicality of the paintings. Paint, sometimes lots of it, is applied in unusual ways, carved out or cleanly scraped away with a palette knife. Through process, technique becomes its own thematic element. "The materiality has always been a big thing for me," Dodge says. "That interaction with the physical material has always been really forefront in the work, whether it's representational or not."
For the past few years, Dodge has worked with this idea of technique-as-meaning, experimenting with what he calls "symmetrical diptychs," the most recent of which he completed in 2014. The concept "developed from a couple different directions, a couple different lines of enquiry," Dodge says. "It was an important step in the work." The symmetrical diptychs are big paintings consisting of two panels, the painting on each one mirroring the other. To create them, Dodge makes a mark on one side and then immediately tries to replicate that mark on the other side. "There's like a built-in failure to it, an absurdity to that act, that I found fascinating," he says. "No matter how good of a painter you are, quote-unquote, it's never going to be the same. You have this tension between the two sides-literally-but there's also this tension between the expectation and what you're actually making."Topanga, 2014
Collage and watercolor on paper, 12 1/3 x 11 in.
Now, though, he's finished with the diptychs and on to something new. (When I ask him which one of his paintings he's most proud of, he says, "Always the most recent one.") His latest paintings visually reference digital decay and imperfection, as when our screens buffer and glitch. Glitches are interesting to Dodge, at least visually, because they're a disruption that exposes an underlying system. "While the momentary glitch may not reveal this system in all its layered complexity, it does hint at it and is revelatory in that way." These more recent paintings are "often a product of many layered images and ideas which are constantly being scraped down, revealing previous layers and imagery," Dodge says. The glitches are represented in his paintings as layers-"multiple paintings, sort of stacked on top of each other"-different elements made visible, some pieces removed. "In this sense they resemble the glitch imagery more overtly, but also carry the ideas of disruption, revealing, concealing." But, he adds, "I feel that these ideas have always been present in my work."
Has his work always been concerned with the contemporary world? "In some ways," he says. "You could say painting is an archaic technology, an old way of making an image. It's important to find ways to speak to the world around you … There's a threat of losing significance. I'm not saying it has to look digital or talk about some technology, but it has to have some grounding in the time it's made."
Tomory Dodge will give an Artist Talk at the Pizzuti Collection this Friday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m. $10, free for members. A reception will immediately follow. RSVP required. pizzuticollection.org