Paintings invite audience to explore depths of abstraction

‘Jaws that Snap’ by Dana Oldfather

By Sarah Weinman

Dana Oldfather’s abstract paintings at Duane Reed Gallery are ethereal, yet paradoxically have much depth. She states, “By choosing when to show gravity, perspective, atmosphere, and light, I create impossible object/environments and emote through them.” Are we looking at objects? Creatures? Landscapes? Our perception dances between the possibilities. 

All of Oldfather’s work is striking, but I was especially intrigued by the title of one piece: “Jaws That Snap” (oil, ink, and aerosol on linen, 38” x 48”). Intense long, wavy brushstrokes in white, green, yellow, and cream create a wide vertical V and resemble the jaws of a shark or other beast with sharp teeth. The background is a wash of dark purple, blue, and gray. Despite the sense of multiple layers within the painting, the piece seems to elicit a fear of being trapped, perhaps by the creature’s jaws or in the layers themselves. 

I was also drawn to the “Waterworld” series (oil, acrylic, and resin on carbon fiber, 24” x 24”). In each of the four approximately round paintings, predominant blue shades are complemented by yellows, grays, browns, and greens. The works may represent wide oceans or tiny water droplets. Drops of water are worlds unto themselves, containing many single-celled organisms. As in “The Jaws That Snap,” these pieces feel expansive because of the layers, but they also present a sense of claustrophobia. Because the frenetic brushstrokes run in circles, viewers may feel as if they are running in circles forever. The colors are soothing, yet may evoke fears of drowning or of being surrounded by water without any land in sight. 

Oldfather’s beautifully articulate description of her work is worth repeating here in its entirety: “Silky ink stains, oozy acrylic pours, and airy swaths of spray paint float and morph as brushstrokes of oil paint in varying weight nest and knot across an ambiguous horizon. A squishy body attempts to protect itself with a labyrinth of piping that underpins and armors it. A repetitive alignment of struts or bones elicits sound at a specific tempo. The paintings live, breathe, and beat.”

“Dana Oldfather” is on view at Duane Reed Gallery through March 18. The gallery is located at 4729 McPherson in the Central West End. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and by appointment. For more information, call 314-361-4100 or visit