2017 MFA Thesis Exhibitions Artist Spotlight: David Ondrik

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David Ondrik, MFA Thesis Sketch, 2017


Every spring the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University partners with the IU School of Art and Design to present thesis exhibitions of graduating Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) candidates in the visual arts. Exhibitions take place in three groups, March 29- May 7, 2017. Today we spotlight one of our 2017 exhibitiors, photographer David Ondrik, whose work will be on display in Group One, from March 29 to April 9, 2017.

Hi David, tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, and why you came to Indiana University?

I was born in Bloomington, although I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I picked up photography in high school and continued my education at the University of New Mexico, where I studied with Thomas Barrow, Patrick Nagatani, and Betty Hahn. After a few years in private industry doing graphic design, I got a teaching certificate and became a high school art teacher. Throughout my ten years of teaching I continued to create and exhibit my own photographic art, which is in a handful of museum and public art collections in New Mexico. I came to IU to work with James Nakagawa and dedicate time to my art practice, with the benefit of being able to teach at the college level when I’m through.

What will you be featuring at your upcoming exhibition at the art museum?

Physically, I’ll be exhibiting a large-scale (10’ x 30’) installation of nearly 250 unique gelatin silver prints made in a chemical darkroom.

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David Ondrik, Inheritance (in-progress), 2017. Unfixed gelatin silver prints.

What themes are you exploring through your upcoming exhibition? 

My recent work is an exploration of the Sublime through the inheritance of tools both real and metaphorical. The Sublime is a visual-spiritual experience with roots in 19th-century Romanticism that refers to “experiences of awe, terror, boundlessness, and divinity.” The impetus for this work came in the aftermath of my father’s death and the struggle to make sense of what was passed along to me. On a physical level, I inherited his woodworking tools, including old-fashioned hand planes and saws. They are simultaneously a treasured gift and an uncomfortable burden. Not being particularly skilled in woodworking, I endeavored to find a way to use the tools for photographic image making.

They are perfect for photograms, a technique that goes back to the beginning of photography where physical objects are arranged on a light-sensitive material (usually paper) and the composition is exposed to light. The shadows cast by the objects create the light shapes while the dark shapes are formed by direct exposure to the light source.

In my photograms, the image of the originating object is completely lost. So not only is the original use of the hand plane subverted, so too is its form. The black shapes reference an event horizon, the outer boundary of a Black Hole beyond which light cannot escape. This is a metaphor for death — the deceased have entered a realm the living cannot understand, but their presence is still felt. The voids float within neutral earth tones, a textural murk that references our body’s cells, bones, and skin. Each image is assembled from smaller pieces into a larger whole, much like the accumulation of individual events into the memories and experiences that make up a life. The images are not properly “fixed,” so they remain sensitive to light. They will change over time, mirroring the way memories and experience shift and evolve. In front of these images, there is room for quiet meditation and reflection, an opportunity to safely confront the traumas of existence.

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David Ondrik, Inheritance (detail), 2017. Unfixed gelatin silver prints.

Who is your favorite artist, and what about their work inspires you?

It’s hard to say as I think it changes. But based on my bookcase, my favorites are Anselm Kiefer and Joel-Peter Witkin. Both of them address disturbing issues with seductive beauty. They also both challenge the conventions of photography; Kiefer’s photographic work ignores technical standbys like tonal range, clean negatives, and proper exposure, while Witkin scratches negatives and bleaches prints as part of his aesthetic.

What are your plans after IU?

I want to return to teaching, either at the college or secondary level.

You can learn more about David and his work at his website, davidondrik.com. David’s work will be on view along with additional work by fellow MFA candidates, photographer Zandra Raines, and textile artist Molly Evans Fox, at the Eskenazi Museum of Art from March 29-April 9, 2017. There will be a gallery talk with the artists from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, March 31, and a reception on Friday, March 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. Find out more about the MFA Thesis Exhibitions here

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