Dani Dodge is an award-winning installation/performance artist who creates immersive, interactive environments that incorporate video, paint, and performance. Her work explores contradictions, often with poetic and haunting imagery.
A former journalist and war correspondent, she makes art inspired by time on the battlefield, and explores the wars we wage within ourselves. She began painting in 2004 after being embedded with the Marines in Iraq.
Dodge was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, but left newspapers two years later to focus on telling stories through her art.
Dodge works primarily by layering different media – paint, wallpaper, fabrics, screen doors, bed frames, mattresses, other found objects, and video – to build environments. Often the work is held together with sutures. The tableaus tell tales of loneliness, joy, pain and triumph – in short, of being human.
Dodge lives and works at the Brewery Artists Complex in Los Angeles.
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Dani Dodge — You Are There
By Peter Frank
We presume that an artist’s work is in some manner autobiographical. In fact, art is not about its makers, but about their world. Even a self-portrait is an observation, a look in a mirror, as well as behind it. For the artist, art is not about feeling — that’s the viewer’s job — but about seeing and making. In a sense, artists function as reporters of a kind, serving to focus our attention on the phenomena that grab their interest.
In this respect, Dani Dodge’s experience as a journalist — not least as a war correspondent embedded with the Marines in Iraq at the time of the invasion — was a key part of her training as an artist. Her experiences, in war and domestically, have provided her endless fodder for her artwork. But so has her experience. Time and again, she was given the responsibility of regarding events and situations before and around her and conveying — not just describing, but portraying — them to her readers in a way that brought them to life, if possible, but at least told the story of their happening.
Every artwork tells a story, goes the saying; this may or may not be true, but every story is an artwork, and should be told with convincing eloquence and riveting immediacy. This was one of the main takeaways Dodge brought with her from the newspaper to the canvas — and one of the things that prompted her ultimately to go wide, to expand well beyond the canvas to the arena of the installation. Employing collage and assemblage techniques, Dodge got past the limitations of rendering materials like oil and pastel, giving her depictions a tough, gripping substance dependent as much on physical as on pictorial presence. In this, Dodge readily admits to the influence of tableau-makers such as Robert Rauschenberg and Edward Kienholz. In fact, she tempers Kienholz’s furious witness with Rauschenberg’s poetic melancholy, coming up with an approach — part montage, part architecture, part sensuous materialism — that hews even closer than did theirs to the art and craft of the stage set.
Dani Dodge’s installations suggest stage sets in that, even when barring us from entering them, they require our presence, and/or the projected presence of someone like us, to tell their story. They are about individuals who are the kind of people we are likely to know or at least encounter, whether soldiers or office workers, children or the poor.
If Rauschenberg began with himself and Kienholz began with headlines, Dodge begins with others and with the kinds of imagery we see less on page one than on page 22 or in the middle of magazines. But these “others” are absent, only hinted at, and in a sense when we witness Dodge’s tableaux we are invited to imagine ourselves part of them, to imagine ourselves the others we behold. Her installations are too physically vivid, and yet too pictorially empty, to act as dioramas (which is how at least some of Kienholz’s works function); rather, they act as eternal moments, snapshots of anyone’s life. And you’re the anyone.
Peter Frank is adjunct senior curator at the Riverside Art Museum, art critic for the Huffington Post and associate editor at Fabrik magazine. He has served as editor of THE magazine Los Angeles and Visions Art Quarterly, and as critic for Angeleno magazine and the L.A. Weekly.
Stories from the Art: Dani Dodge
By Laurie Morrison for the Inland Empire Museum of Art
Aug. 8, 2013
"Some of my work may not hang well over a couch, but I'm OK with that. Often my intention is to tell a deeper, more complex story than would fit well in an average living room."
Her current work is intentionally rugged and real, and as she searches for her own truth Dani Dodge is compelled to create. Her creations can be bigger than life, her reality layered repeatedly upon itself to reveal a truth, to touch a nerve, to make people think, to cause them to react.
“My pieces all have rawness to them. The edges are raw, the paint is raw, I don’t want precision. I try very hard to avoid precision, because I think that there are a lot of unraveled edges when you are exploring the truth. You have to be willing to explore things that are messy and be willing to stop trying to be perfect. There is no perfection: But there is truth.”
Straight forward and frank, she creates from a place of self awareness that few of us can claim to have. Her history as a journalist and war correspondent suites her well in her current endeavours; though now writing with paint, with material, and with installations, she is still recording people’s lives and reporting on communal tales of tragedy, romance, intimacy and reality. “I’ve always been a story teller” she says.
Dani speaks from a place of experience as well as intuition, and though her words take various forms, her imaginings always come back to issues of truth, beauty, and justice. Dani puts forth a challenge to the viewer to see more, to see their own experiences, to layer their lives over her art and search for the depth of understanding that comes from fully knowing yourself.
The architectural elements she uses have touched her in some way. Found in thrift stores or stumbled upon on the street, in an alley or attic, they have a sense of history to them – and Dani creates a visual narrative that might have occurred in the life of the object – situations that the items may have witnessed before being discarded. Her compelling images, paintings and collages are based on the struggles we find within ourselves. Struggles within Dani as well as her viewers.
“I am satisfied when I can tell the story. When I can tell the story I need to tell. I am satisfied when I can pull together elements that are so innovative and unique that people have to look and then see something of themselves.”
She makes art because it's a part of who she is, a part of her essence to put together these pieces; abstract line, human form, symbolic gesture or in-your-face images, she strikes a nerve in all of us and calls us to examine the truth with a vulnerability that can be as frightening as it is beautiful.
To see full article and online show curated by Gene Sasse for the Inland Empire Museum of Art, go here: http://www.iearts.org/exhibits_stories_from_the_art-dani_dodge.htm
Bold Artist Paints Poignant Stories
By Kay Colvin for The Coast News
Jun 08, 2012
The word “courage” doesn’t typically come to mind in relation to artists.
However, in the case of San Diego painter Dani Dodge, courage appears early in her description.
Contrary to her angelic appearance, Dani was embedded as a newspaper reporter with the First Marine Expeditionary Force during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, where she witnessed first hand the horrors of war. With indelible experience gained in covering military conflict, the San Jose State University journalism graduate later relocated to San Diego as reporter for the Union-Tribune, and was part of a journalistic team that in 2006 won a Pulitzer Prize.
Over time it became clear to Dani that words were not a powerful enough means of expression, so she courageously left her career as an accomplished journalist after nearly two decades in order to focus on telling poignant stories through art. She mused, “As a journalist, I told the stories of others, but as an artist, I tell my own.” Her outstanding professionalism as a journalist has followed her into her successful artistic career.
Dani works primarily by layering different media — acrylic paint, spray paint, ink and collage — to create moving images that weave tales of the human condition, often within crowded cities. She explains, “I paint and draw these people in a raw, abstracted manner to give viewers an opportunity to read in their own stories.”
Although her work has typically been on canvas, she recently began exploring the incorporation of found sculptural elements into her figurative paintings. She states of this courageous new phase of her artwork, “I use the discards of everyday life — a dirty screen door left in the gutter becomes a frame, and a rusty car door becomes a vehicle driving home a new message. By repurposing the trash, I am seeking redemption also for the souls I capture in paint.”
Raw, provoking, yet at the same time sensitively empathetic, this new work seems to tell the story of people discarded by society. “I work to create poignancy by putting this trash together with my paintings — to find the beauty in what we throw away,” Dani says.
Her boldly expressive paintings have won many awards while being selected for an ever-increasing list of national and international juried shows. She has garnered media attention on local television as well as in an impressive number of publications.
Dani’s work can be seen at Pimento Fine Art in Little Italy, as well as at danidodge.com. Additionally, she is scheduled to exhibit at the Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair coming to Balboa Park in September.
A solo exhibit of Dani’s work can be viewed currently at L Street Fine Art, 628 L Street across from the Omni San Diego Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter through Aug. 15. The public is invited to meet Dani at her opening reception at the L Street gallery June 9 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Kay Colvin is an art consultant and director of the L Street Fine Art Gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. She specializes in promoting emerging and mid-career artists and bringing enrichment programs to elementary schools through The Kid’s College. Contact her at email@example.com. For online copy of this article go to: http://thecoastnews.com/2012/06/bold-artist-paints-poignant-stories/