Possibility in objects

Gioia Fonda transforms gutter garbage into art

Sacramento City College professor Gioia Fonda snuggles to one of her quilts, some of which are made with repurposed plastic bags.

Sacramento City College professor Gioia Fonda snuggles to one of her quilts, some of which are made with repurposed plastic bags.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Ordinary hurricane fence morphs into happy orange flowers, familiar green baskets that once held strawberries transform into whimsical city skylines and forks found abandoned in Sacramento’s gutters glisten brightly. These are Sacramento City College assistant art professor Gioia Fonda’s recycled treasures. And her art.

“I feel that people aren’t being as creative as they could be with their trash,” Fonda says. “There are possibilities in objects. A lot of things could be repurposed.”

Fonda’s den of creativity once filled a large space in Verge Gallery and Studio Project at 19th and V streets, but now is awaiting construction of walls before its move into a new location downtown near S and Seventh streets. Her studio brims with random objects found during her daily bicycle commute. While seated at her workstation, Fonda appears wholly comfortable surrounded by a world of recycled bliss.

On the ground, a white ceramic owl anticipates a fresh coat of paint. Boxes labeled “froo-froo fluff” and “Valentine crap” rest neatly on shelves. Hand-painted sheets of construction paper wadded into balls, then pierced with string, hang over a doorway.

There’s more: A patch of cotton-candy-pink fur is pinned to one wall. A tin caboodle chock-full of gel pens beckons even the most artistically challenged. A small table bears an assortment of dull and bent silverware. A tiny pile of snipped paper bits lay interwoven on her desk.

Scanning the entire room, Fonda jumps up and grabs an object she proudly presents as a “weed tiara.”

“Everything looks better with spray paint,” Fonda says, matter of factly, while holding what appears to be a chunk of flattened tumbleweed. “One day, I just decided to spray-paint it pink and then, another day, I decided to glue a little sequin on the tip of every [branch].”

A simple weed, flattened by numerous cars and blown into the gutter in front of her art studio, now sparkles with new purpose.

“When things are cheap, I’m more likely to take a risk and try something new than if I spend a lot of money on art supplies,” explains the blond 36-year-old of her attraction to found art and collage. She says that her family always looked at things “a little differently.”

“For me, it’s second nature.”

She points out a deity sitting on a shelf lined with orange lace, safely surrounded by an old picture frame, silently surveying the studio. An artificial-grass fan is attached to the deity’s back, forming a green aura, while an old ink pen and pair of scissors stand guard at its sides. Multicolored paint chips, scraped from Fonda’s palette, lay as an offering at the deity’s feet.

“[My mom] thought it would be funny to give me this little goddess, my ‘studio goddess,’” Fonda says, smiling. Her mother, Chloe Fonda, is also an artist. “Most of the paintbrushes I have were hers when she was in school. She kept good care of them, and I take OK care of them, and they are still usable 50 years later.

“I think there’s a sense that you should use things and take care of them for as long as you can.”

Students in Fonda’s collage-and-assemblage classes quickly learn this lesson, too, and items such as an ordinary gum wrapper, lying in a crumpled-up ball on the ground, becomes their art.

Fonda’s intention is to show students that they can save money by visiting thrift stores or by simply taking a second look at, say, the plastic bag bread comes in.

“My motivation isn’t always saving the Earth, although that’d be nice,” Fonda admits. “[But] everything could be useful somehow. It could be turned into something.”

Like a bird that sings, Gioia Fonda’s studio is a nest for junk revitalized.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Fonda’s passion for recycled collage and assemblage has produced notable projects.

“Gioia is one resourceful woman,” says Sacramento City College’s art department chairwoman Emily Wilson. “A piece that comes to mind is a quilt she made entirely out of used plastic shopping bags. She created a piece of artwork with intricate pattern and vivid color made entirely out of what most of us would consider trash.”

Fonda started collecting plastic bags from different bodegas around Brooklyn during her studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She saved them by making a book of plastic pages. Two years later, they reappeared as the quilt.

“When I use plastic bags, I can kind of experiment, and it’s freeing to me,” Fonda says while unfolding her plastic masterpiece, which rustles softly. Certain squares of the quilt are very familiar: the swirly “S” of Safeway, red Target circles, even the intense yellow of a Sacramento City College bookstore bag.

“I was just thinking I had so many plastic bags, and they were such beautiful colors … what could come of it?”

Fonda says that her fear of driving is the reason she commutes by bike, but that pedaling through Sacramento puts her at the street level, which makes it easier to find objects for future art projects.

“I used to go on walks with a friend [and] her dog, and she would be laughing at me for how many times I bent down to pick things up,” Fonda says. “My pockets would be full by the end of the walk.”

Fonda, who has also participated in state fair competitions for recycled art, feels everyone is capable of repurposing an object, but everyone should also push the aesthetic potential a little more.

“If somebody wants to start out, just look around,” she advises, thinking.

“Like all those AOL discs that come in the mail all the time. We gotta think of a project for those!”