Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Firehouse Galley Opens, Features Art of Dan Fenelon

                                        Posted on November 25th, 2012 by Ally Blumenfeld
The Art of Dan Fenelon, photo credit Ally Blumenfeld

Inside the new Firehouse Gallery and Artist Lofts, very few vestiges of the 1905 Forest Street Firehouse remain.  In fact, it is quite hard to imagine that the building was once populated with firemen, fire trucks, and an ever-present sense of urgency.  Now, it is mostly quiet inside the walls of the gallery, but it is certainly not without energy.

On Friday night the firehouse was transformed yet again, this time into the world of artist Dan Fenelon.  'The Art of Dan Fenelon' opened to an impressed and excited crowd who had the pleasure of mingling with Richard T. Bryant and Patrick Morrissy, executive directors of ValleyArts and H.A.N.D.S. respectively, and Fenelon himself.  The hardwood floors, exposed brick, and freshly painted white walls were the perfect canvas for Fenelon's colorful and intriguing work.  It wasn't your typical four-wall gallery, however, as artwork hung not only on the walls but on stands, from poles, and from the rails of the large white garage door – perhaps the only clue to the previous career of this beautifully renovated building. 

Many of Fenelon's pieces were, much like the gallery that housed it, repurposed.  There were tables, shelves, hangers, a wheel, a television, a bass, and a toy truck – all now art.  One of Fenelon's many talents seems to be turning the ordinary into the extraordinary: taking a “non-art” item, and by using color and imagination, transforming it into something creative.  It became clear that this exhibit mirrors the vision of at-the-helm organizations ValleyArts and H.A.N.D.S. in its insistence on finding art in new places, and creating where others may not see space for creation. 

The Art of Dan Fenelon,
photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
This is exactly what is happening in the ValleyArts District. About halfway through the opening, Bryant, Morrissy, and Fenelon spoke to a captive audience of community members, friends, art aficionados, and supporters.  Morrisy explained that their vision for bringing art to the Valley is not “chardonnay and expensive paintings” – it's about creating: creating an arts district, creating a strong community, and most importantly, creating opportunities for expression for those whose voices are not always heard.  So far in the Valley, thirty-nine artist spaces have been built and occupied, seven are just opening (including the Firehouse), and fifteen are currently under construction.  Their wish is to build 100 spaces where local artists can live, work, share, and create with the community of Orange.  As an artist, Fenelon is also a part of this creation.  He often includes community members – mainly those who are not artists – in the creation of his public projects and murals.  He has said that it is important for locals to have a chance to take ownership in his work, which is an ideal way to truly bring arts into the Orange community. 

'The Art of Dan Fenelon' is the perfect exhibit to open the new Firehouse Gallery because, like Fenelon's incredible art itself, the ValleyArts District consists of old spaces becoming new, the archaic becoming the accessible, and the “non-art” becoming art.  Just as a blank canvas emblazoned with Fenelon's signature designs becomes a piece of artwork, so too does a previously abandoned firehouse, with a black and white mural signed by Dan Fenelon on the facade, become a place for art.

Outside the ValleyArts Firehouse, photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
'The Art of Dan Fenelon' is not to be missed.  Open through Sunday, January 6 at the Firehouse Gallery and Artist Lofts, 580 Forest Street, Orange NJ 07050.

Ally Blumenfeld is a working writer, dramaturg, and photographer based in Montclair, NJ. Two of her original one-act plays have been produced Off-Off-Broadway. She is currently the Gallery Coordinator for the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. Follow her on Twitter at @allyblume.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'The Art of Dan Fenelon' to mark inaugural exhibit for Firehouse Gallery: An Interview with Dan Fenelon

Posted on November 13th, 2012 by Ally Blumenfeld

Dan Fenelon- photo credit: Ellen Denuto
This Friday, a re-purposed firehouse in Orange, NJ will begin its career as a gallery and artist loft.  I had the pleasure of talking with Dan Fenelon, the renowned artist whose work will be featured in the inaugural exhibit at the new ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. 

Fenelon's art will catch your eye, and you won't be able to look away.  At first glance, it's tribal art.  Then, wait – is that Krusty the Clown?  From murals to installation art, each piece seems to come from the same explosive, vibrant, cartoon world where colors never clash and where lines and patterns serve not as restraints but as layers.  Endlessly exciting and always thoughtful, Fenelon's work has seen both coasts, been exhibited at numerous galleries in his home state of New Jersey, and been displayed at museums, in libraries, and on the sides of buildings. Fenelon was recently commissioned to design the Peace Mural to welcome the Dalai Lama to the 2011 Newark Peace Summit, and this winter the eyes of the nation will be on his artwork, as he was chosen by Governor Chris Christie to design the Christmas ornaments for New Jersey's Christmas Tree at the National Christmas Tree Display on the White House Lawn. 

I got to chat with Fenelon, where he shared a bit about his experience working within communities to create public murals, his relationship to the ValleyArts District, and why art programs and organizations are vital to an artist's success.

AB: First, I'd like to ask you about your artwork in general.  I'm sure you get these kinds of questions a lot, so I'll simply ask: what do you want people to know about your art?

DF: I have a lot of influences in my work.  Some are serious and others are playful and fun.  I do appreciate humor and satire.  I am fascinated with the spiritual and the tribal aspect of man and the psychology of modernism.

AB: What do you strive for your art to accomplish in the communities in which you work?

DF: I know that my work comes from a core style and from that I am trying to branch out and challenge myself to keep it interesting and vibrant.  A lot of the public projects I have been doing involve other people getting their hands into it.  Most of the time they are not artists, but I have found a way to adapt my style to be accessible to their skill sets.  This has been very rewarding to me and everyone involved.  I want them to have ownership in the work, especially because it will be seen in their own community.

AB: What do you feel is the significance of artists making a name for themselves locally?  How has this benefited you as an artist?

DF: I like being involved in my local community and the support I get in New Jersey is overwhelming.  I feel honored to be chosen for so many great projects around the state.  I think that for different artists there are different approaches to take and it has been my fortune to make my name locally.

AB: Your show is the inaugural event at the Firehouse Gallery in Orange.  Could you tell us a bit about the space?  How did you adapt your work to the space?

DF: Richard Bryant approached me about the show and I was already involved in creating an installation called Insta-Freaking-Lation for Gallery Paquette in Boonton.  Now I will repurpose the work to fit in the Firehouse Gallery.  There is one spot in particular that caught my eye and will work as a centerpiece for the exhibit.  One large archway that is sealed with plywood will be the place for a sight specific piece.  That's all I am telling you!

AB: Why are you excited to bring your work to the ValleyArts District?  What was it like to work with ValleyArts in the past?

DF: Valley Arts was the first place to grant me a public mural.  I have been able to turn that opportunity into over 20 murals throughout NJ and elsewhere.  Every project I have worked on for ValleyArts and H.A.N.D.S. has been a delightful experience.  One of my favorite parts its the thanks I get from local people as they pass by to admire the work.

AB: What do you feel is important about an organization like ValleyArts?

DF: Without these think tanks for creativity the world would be a dreary place.  Artists need to be around other artists in order to grow.  We all need our communities and organizations so society can flourish.  During WWII When Winston Churchill was told that parliament was cutting art programs he responded by saying, “Good God, man, what do you think are we fighting for?”

'The Art of Dan Fenelon' can be seen at the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery November 16th-30th, located at 580 Forest Street in Orange, NJ.  Free admission.

Ally Blumenfeld is a working writer, dramaturg, and photographer based in Montclair, NJ. Two of her original one-act plays have been produced Off-Off-Broadway. She is currently the Gallery Coordinator for the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. Follow her on Twitter at @allyblume.