Teacher, former student featured in duo exhibition at Blockfort

Maybe it's simply the cache built up over 25 years of teaching experience. Maybe it's the fact he's an art teacher who, when found in the halls, is covered in splatters, stains and all manner of art-making detritus. Maybe it's his well-deserved reputation as a practicing artist, both feet firmly planted in lowbrow art and having developed an instantly recognizable style and voice.

Or maybe it's his funky beard.

Whatever the explanation, Hilliard Davidson High School art teacher Dan Gerdeman feels like he's been able to foster a little bit more of an anti-authoritarian bent among his students, as appropriate, than perhaps some other teachers.

“Usually it's in their work and not just a raised middle finger or something,” Gerdeman joked.

It was one of the first things Gerdeman noticed about Daniel Rona's work when his now-former student first came to Gerdeman's media arts class.

“One of our earliest connections was lowbrow art, where there's always something a little bit like thumbing our nose at authority. That's something I like to do in my work, and that was another one of our earliest connections, being unapologetic and a hint anti-authoritarian,” Gerdeman said of Rona, who graduated from Davidson in 2016. “In 25 years of teaching, he's also the most prolific student I've taught. He was not always a talker in class. He was a do-er.”

Rona is currently interning at Blockfort, where both he and Gerdeman will show work in June. The joint exhibition will feature Gerdeman's “Ask Me No Questions” in the main gallery and Rona's “Tell Me No Lies” in the rear gallery space.

“I'm really excited [to show together]. … When the opportunity came up at Blockfort and I knew [Rona] was interning here, I was hoping that we could show at the same time,” Gerdeman said. “We're just sort of kindred spirits and grew into friends over time.”

“I was just coming off two years of online school,” said Rona, who was a junior at Davidson when he first had Gerdeman as a teacher. “I've never been social, but online school took me away from being social even more. Art was always there, but I kind of dropped it when I was [going to school] online.

“[Gerdeman] just encouraged me to become more active in art, to be prolific and be myself at the same time, intertwining all those together. Back then I was a little bit more inspired by other artists, but after spending time with Gerdy, I think I've been able to refine my style.”

“I believe in all the kids I teach, but [Rona] was telling these stories about depression and hope and love and longing and doing it in somewhat of a subversive away,” Gerdeman said. “I think he was showing this really thoughtful connection of being a kid and working into adulthood and showing that he had these really profound thoughts, and a lot of adults don't always see that in kids.”

When the pair decided to exhibit together, it was decided to just let the commonalities and connections between the works reveal themselves naturally rather than to actively try and make pieces that were intended to be in conversation with each other. In the process, both artists found freedom and room to explore.

“Especially at the end of the school year, I have this pile of garbage coming out of my head and I feel like I have something to say but I can't be concise in how I want to say it,” Gerdeman said. “So a lot of my work is these piles of images and words and symbols. There's this disconnect. … Don't ask me questions [about this work] yet. At the show, I want people to talk about the work, but I don't have a great idea about what to say about it.”

“I have these clusters of things going on that I'm not too sure what they mean officially, but I know when I look at it that there are a lot of things [the work] can be connected to,” Rona said. “People have said … that it looks like me, but I think personally I've never done anything like this. This is some of the first work I've been able to keep on a canvas for more than a week. All the canvases I'm going to show have been painted on over a dozen times. So for this show to happen is exciting because I get to show … work that I'm not just leaving on [the canvas] because I need stuff to show, but because I truly believe in it.”

“He's doing some really potent work,” Gerdeman said. “I'm just pretty stoked to show with him.”