Fodor leaves his mark on Davis
Artist Danielle Fodor has left an indelible mark on Davis’ landscape. When I heard that she was preparing to move to Washington State with her family, I invited her to chat with me about her artistic process and her works. Danielle and I met for our conversation in true pandemic style, with our own chairs, socially removed from the green belt near the street mural, “Elemental.” The spring morning was cool and a bird, a phoebe, was hopping on the grass beside us. Several times during our conversation, a chicken chuckled in the distance.
If you browse through the list of her public art works: “Convergent Lady Beetle”, “Flying Through the Flatlands”, “Two Views of Putah Creek” and “Naturehood”, to name a few, you will notice that his art is founded in the distinct sense of the unique place at our location in the northern and western part of the great central valley, in the Putah-Cache bioregion.
Fodor’s college education in plant biology and community development sparked his interest in leaf shape, stem pattern, and the stories we tell. She drew more in plant biology class than in art class, which is reflected in many of her works around Davis.
Studying mural making with Malaquias Montoya taught him how to bring his artistic vision to larger-than-life murals. She shares with me that making murals involves your whole body. The muralist pays attention to all the spaces to be painted, sometimes on a ladder at the top of the mural and also at the very bottom where the wall meets the ground.
Part of the creative process is the realization of the fresco itself: learning to continue when conditions are not ideal and integrating the environment into the design. While she painted the utility box in Central Park, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Farmers Market, the farmers stopped and shared stories that would then become part of the artwork. The circular nature of “Elemental” was designed to incorporate the shape of the cul-de-sac.
The murals on vertical surfaces then led to street paintings, three of which she directed at Davis – “Naturehood”, 2016; “Symbiosis”, 2017; and “elementary”, 2018.
Working with the natural environment is important to Fodor. Have you ever noticed where leaves pile up on your street or where the first plants pop up in a crack in the sidewalk? Personally, I notice the only place that collects moss, where maybe just a little extra water is when our neighbors water their plants. This perception of our micro landscape is only one of the secrets of the success of street painting.
The end result of the street painting looks deceptively simple, an image on the street. If you’ve been involved in a street painting or understand the community building process, you will begin to understand the skills and experience that Fodor brings to every street painting. I would venture to say that these paintings are the work of a masterful practitioner of community development, who understands the power that art has in connecting people to each other, to their built environment and to nature. It is the trifecta of creating vibrant communities in which people thrive. Davis is fortunate to have several street paintings and dozens of other murals directed by Fodor.
When I asked her to describe her role in street painting, she replied that it was a bit like composing music and conducting an orchestra but not personally touching the instruments herself. Instead, she channels the energy of hundreds of people into a painted symphony. She does not remember a photo of her painting during the last climactic painting sessions. Its artistic style permeates the mural, but it is designed with community participation through a series of neighborhood meetings; she is a lead artist, project manager, public relations, volunteer coordination, traffic control and often fundraiser.
Understanding how they want to use the space once it has been painted is one of its greatest services to neighborhoods. Have you ever thought about what you want as a goal from the street near you? And did you spend a few hours creating that vision with the people who live near you? For many of us who live apart from our neighbors, this seems special. The process of creating the work of art in turn creates a community.
Much of Fodor’s art is about how we as a community can reclaim images used for profit and reclaim their power for ourselves. When something is beautiful, inspiring and engaging, people show up. She also subscribes to this philosophy for much of her non-mural works. She illustrated a local voter guide zine aka “Pancakes and Politics” and brought together artists for both climate activism and public health messages during the pandemic.
The “Pancakes and Politics” zine offers an alternative to official voter guides, ballots and newspaper reviews that are full of text and political jargon. Using the zine format, comments, and hand-drawn images, she worked to bring more people into the local political process by infusing humor and whimsy into her images. She keeps hearing how people read the guide or picked up a hard copy because a picture calls out to them.
Drawing on similar skills, Danielle’s work gives a voice to the climate crisis by using the power of images on behalf of animals, plants and people. She works with volunteers to paint banners, build puppets and make costumes. A year ago, just before things stopped due to COVID, Danielle was in the planning stages for a community building of puppets and pictures that people could use during Earth Day.
When COVID shut everything down, she envisioned a way artists could support public health messages. The # Plan4Resilience street paintings were created. The # Plan4Resilience artists were asked what can be learned from the pandemic and what lessons can be learned in the future to build resilience in the face of future challenges, including the climate crisis. Temporary pavement paintings with these messages were created in the parks and plazas of Davis. The paintings lifted our spirits while also reflecting on long-term resilience.
Danielle will be missed in our community. Our conversation continued as people walked their dogs beside us and runners roamed the greenbelt. We also covered topics related specifically to the Davis Arts Center; we discussed the different philosophies on teaching art to children, asked how we could better prepare artists to be mental health workers when we reopen, and what makes someone an artist. She told me about the bustling boatbuilding community and the local land trust near where she and her family are moving to in Washington state.
I asked the question, which I have come back to again and again this year, “how do you continue?” Danielle shared another analogy with nature, that of the salmon, which she observed in a stream near her new home. While swimming upstream, salmon encounter obstacles: rocks, plant material, a bend in a stream or a strong current. As an artist, she is confident that she will keep coming back to work. It will sit down with criticism or rejection and then continue to forge itself upstream. Like the salmon, which continues to move upstream sometimes taking the first path or the second or sometimes the third path, she is confident that the space will open up and that she will continue to do the job, even if it doesn’t. may not be on the path she originally expected. .
Our interview ended so I asked: “where is your work going from here in a new ecosystem; a new neighborhood? Danielle explained that when she started out as an artist, she focused on self-expression, but later saw herself as a facilitator helping others find and amplify their voices. Now, with a year of withdrawal during the pandemic, she sees herself returning to self-expression again.
Starting in a new location can mean taking a naturalist course or at a minimum spending time looking at leaf shapes and learning about plant species found in the Pacific Northwest. She hopes to have a dedicated studio where she can devote herself to creating her own art. She will focus on projects that aim to preserve the planet and its relationships between plants and animals. Now that Danielle trades Valley Oaks for Cedars, Trout for Salmon, and Phoebes for Bald Eagles, the people of Washington State are in for a treat!
If you step outside and look at his public art around Davis, you will see that the spirit of our place has been woven into his art. It leaves us a heritage of art that reflects both our relationship to the great valley in which we live and to more connected and more livable neighborhoods.
– Stacie Frerichs is the Executive Director of the Davis Arts Center.
A partial list of Danielle Fodor’s public art:
“Life Cycle of the Convergent Ladybug”, 2007, UC Davis
“Community mural of the DAC hut”, 201
“Flying across the plains”, 2013
“Two Views of Putah Creek”, 2015
“Market Box”, 2016
To learn more about this work, visit https://www.cityofdavis.org/home/showpublisheddocument?id=15713