From brilliantly colored fish to dancing cats to sensual silhouettes of the female form, the art of Connecticut’s Danielle Mailer spans painting, sculpture – and now – large public art projects.
I spoke with artist Danielle Mailer. Her latest installation, Project:FishTales, will transform a façade in Torrington, Connecticut, just above a spot where the Naugatuck River stretches the length of a city block .
Danielle Mailer: Project:FishTales is a giant mural that is going to be installed in summer 2016 on the backside of Staples in downtown Torrington. Fish (are) silhouetted and attached piece-by-piece, puzzle-style to the backside of this wall. The whole entire production will be done offsite, so it has a slightly different flavor than your typical mural which is done directly on the wall.
WNPR's Diane Orson: Where did you get this idea?
I have a background in painting. My paintings have morphed into silhouettes, and the silhouettes have eventually jumped off the canvas and begun their journey onto walls!
About five years ago, I realized that I’m desperate to go big and bigger. I wanted something so large and so dramatic and offering such a big wow, that the only option was to approach cities and do a work on the back of buildings. So that’s how the public art journey started.
These are gloriously colored and patterned trout. Why trout?
The Naugatuck River at the turn of the century was, as many of us know, very polluted, and was in desperate trouble. In the '70s, the Clean Water Act came through, and began rebuilding the river and stocking it with trout and other marine life. The river started becoming vibrant and alive again, so I thought the trout was a beautiful way of celebrating the health and well-being of the Naugatuck.
Also, there’s a lot going on in Torrington now. A lot of the arts are really becoming rich and active. There’s a lot of revitalization. So I thought it was an apt metaphor for what’s happening in Torrington.
We have about ten schools that are working on the project: middle school, high school, and some students from UConn. What I love about this process is the collaborative element.
You do other things besides public art... painting and sculpture. And a lot of the themes I see running through your art include animals and the female form. Why?
My mother's identity as an artist was as an abstract expressionist. I grew up in a household where everywhere you looked there were references to art. There were palettes on tables. If you weren’t careful, you’d put your elbow in cadmium orange.
We had a lot of cats and dogs and a few birds. It was sort of a menagerie in New York City, a very eccentric household. But my whole orientation was color, animals, turpentine. I mean, from my earliest memories, I was really groomed to be an artist.
You’re the daughter, really, of two artists: Peruvian painter Adele Morales, and also writer Norman Mailer. Can you talk a little bit about how you think his influence finds its way into your art?
Well, his influence is huge. I mean, for one thing, our church growing up was the Museum of Modern Art. I have nine siblings, and all of us -- save one who became a psychoanalyst, which also makes a lot of sense -- we all chose the path of artists. My father never encouraged any other kind of self-expression. It’s always: You children are artists. That was sort of a given. It’s very unusual. There’s no professionals in our family. I mean, God forbid someone would have become a doctor or a lawyer!
So Dad was hugely influential. He bought me art books. When other kids were getting Barbie dolls, I was getting Hieronymus Bosch, you know, books that were larger than my five-year-old self. And we really just had such a creative and sort of vibrant, energetic childhood. It was dramatic and fraught and complicated, but there was always that sense of art as sacred and something we all hold onto in our core.
The Torrington Children's Museum, KidsPlay is hosting a fundraiser event for Mailer's 186-foot, work-in-progress project on Saturday, November 14, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, and is offering two free tickets to every guest. Guests can meet the artist and her team, and learn more about this ambitious project. KidsPlay is located at 69 Main Street in Torrington, across from The Warner Theater. To RSVP and for more information, call (860) 480-1392 or email danielle [at] daniellemailer.com. To learn more about Danielle Mailer and her project, visit projectfishtales.org.