By Abby Weingarten
Four years ago, alumna Danielle Dygert graduated from New College with a dual concentration in art and classics. Less than a week ago (and just four days after unveiling a new mural downtown), the Sarasota native shipped out for a six-month-long cross-country trip.
Her expedition—a camping journey through America’s national forests—will culminate in a 5-foot-by-90-foot oil painting, inspired by “the spirit of the nation,” to be exhibited at SPAACES Gallery in April.
“While studying at New College, Danielle stood out as an exceedingly talented and motivated student,” said Kim Anderson, an associate professor of art at New College, and one of Dygert’s mentors. “She always pushed herself beyond the basic requirements or expectations.”
And Dygert hasn’t stopped.
In addition to taking numerous personal commissions post-New College, the 27-year-old visual artist has worked as an artist liaison for The Ringling Underground series, and as an exhibitions and marketing coordinator for Art Center Sarasota.
Dygert’s latest work, displayed on October 10 on the wall of a building at 1542 Fruitville Road, was a commission for Paint Sarasota with Love—a partnership between the City of Sarasota and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County as part of Sarasota’s pandemic recovery plan. The idea was to “commission multiple murals throughout the city to convey the circumstances of our times, and create positive and healing energy within the community.”
Dygert describes her mural as a “psychofigurative landscape a response to a childhood memory at The Ringling Museum.”
“This mural is my love note to the city. It describes how myself and my six sisters spent years playing in the banyan trees at The Ringling, developing stories of tree people and other worlds,” Dygert said. “This painting is a psychogeographic reflection of my life in Sarasota, and I hope many others see it as a reminder to explore their own reality and identity.”
Dygert will be further exploring reality as she heads out to about 12 national forests (starting near the Canadian border) for a series of primitive tent-camping/landscape painting adventures with her dog. Because her job at Art Center Sarasota was derailed due to the pandemic, it is an ideal time for Dygert to travel. She will return in March to finish her SPAACES piece, which is just one part of an overarching painting project called American Mythos—Dygert’s attempt to “reflect and document our current national consciousness” (everything from the effects of the pandemic to climate change to the ongoing fight for equity).
“The volatile sociopolitical shifts of 2020,” she said, have compelled her to artistically pivot in that direction.
“In this new research project/traveling residency, I aim to document the disconnect between the stories we tell and the realities we face,” Dygert said. “My forthcoming paintings revisit fables traditionally used to describe American heroism, infamy, freedom and success, which too often avoid honest discussions of the national consciousness and circumstances of the people themselves.”
Dygert has used art to explore social and interpersonal issues for years. In her New College thesis, she studied the physical manifestations of identity through a series of figurative landscape paintings. Employing allegory, she demonstrated the relevance of mythos and persona construction in contemporary American art, and described her own histories through several “mythscape” artworks.
Dygert’s experience at New College ultimately helped her cultivate her creative vision.
“New College afforded me the opportunity to explore my artistic voice. The mural at Caples was a particularly exciting opportunity (together, five artists created a painting that was inclusive, ‘other than’ and nostalgic). This work embodies the complexities and sensitivities of life at New, including a nest for wayward travelers,” Dygert said. “And my thesis paintings chiefly influenced my current work. I have continued to delve into the realm of persona, focusing largely on the artifice of identity and the journey of self-construction.”
Through Independent Study Projects (ISPs) and seminars at New College, Dygert strengthened her prominence in both theory and presentation, which served her well in her career, she said.
“As an artist liaison, marketing and exhibitions coordinator, and independent artist, I present physical works with the support of written and spoken context. Writing a thesis at New prepared me for press releases, public speeches, news interviews and written media that I produce every day,” Dygert said. “New College provided me with confidence in my own ideas and equipped me with the structure to validate my artistic works.”
Anderson looks forward to seeing Dygert progress, and she was exceedingly proud of her Fruitville mural (which she couldn’t believe Dygert masterfully completed in only two weeks).
“While Danielle had initially intended to make a more direct political statement in order to examine our current condition, she found ways to channel political content into a poignantly beautiful and rich visual metaphor that also reflects on her roots as a liberal arts student,” Anderson said of Dygert’s recent artwork. “Danielle’s achievements also speak to the need for more opportunities on campus where our students can gain experience and insight into negotiating public art policy (a competitive field) and the physical demands of large public artworks.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.