Public art is a “real passion” of professional photographer Fox Gradin’s.
The Gainesville native was ecstatic when the Free Range Art Project began in her hometown.
“I’ve really always been an advocate for public art,” she said. “I have public art in lots of places in the United States, but for it to be in my own hometown is extremely exciting for me and I can’t wait to do more.”
Now Gradin is part of the public art program. She was recently chosen to be one of five artists with pieces on display around town as part of the Free Range Art Project in Gainesville.
“I feel very honored, and I feel very excited,” she said.
The Free Range Art Project is overseen by Vision 2030 of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, operating in partnership with the Quinlan Visual Arts Center. The purpose is to “promote art within the community through the creation of large-scale works of art installed in the public sphere throughout the city of Gainesville and Hall County,” according to a news release from Quinlan.
Gradin’s piece in the public exhibition is a photograph titled “Real Life Dogs Playing Poker.”
She crafted the piece a few years ago specifically for a humane society’s art auction.
“For a lot of my art, there’s a base sense of kind of wicked humor,” Gradin said. “I also like to take old ideas and make them new again. Dogs playing poker is sort of a tacky piece of American iconic art, which is really weird. And it’s been redone and redone by lots of artists because it’s very kitsch. The thought of taking these real-life dogs and making it seem like they were interacting in a human game was challenging, so I did it.
“It’s kind of taken a life of its own and people for whatever reason love that piece,” she continued.
The piece has been installed at Lake Lanier Olympic Park until October, said Frank Norton, co-chair of the art committee that selected the pieces for the project.
“A special jury committee selected the art based on range media and artistic expression,” Norton said.
Gradin attempted to explain what inspires her, but said it’s hard to explain an artist’s mind.
“There’s always stories in my head, and they’re always there brewing in my soul and in my mind,” she said. “The drive to get those stories out so that everyone else can see them is a very passionate process and is sometimes uncontrollable. It’s a real driving force and I can’t do anything else.”
Gradin’s education and occupation proves that point.
After high school, she enrolled in what is now the University of North Georgia to study fine arts with a concentration in photography. When she graduated, Gradin opened her photography studio, Celestial Studios, on the square in downtown Gainesville. She has been there ever since and added a seemingly endless list of artistic accomplishments to her resume.
“I mainly show in conventions, like science-fiction conventions,” she said. “I published a book a couple of years ago of my photography and writing … I’ve had several solo shows all across the country.”
She also has used her creative mind and talents to help others. For 12 years, she has directed an art camp at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center and taught classes there. Plus, she works through the Quinlan with the Healing Through the Arts, which is a program that offers art classes at senior centers with memory care providers for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
And she does not limit her artistic expertise to classes. As the director of Art in the Square every September in Gainesville, she brings various art forms to the community.
All of these accomplishments made her an ideal candidate for the Free Range Art project.
“I feel like I’m a storyteller at heart and when I do art, my main goal is to have the viewer make up their own story about what they’re seeing, to tell themselves a story and my art be the spark that sparks imagination,” Gradin said about her goal as an artist.