Making the Most of the Monkey: Debora Oden gets abstract & personal

Imagine that you’ve built a golf course in Calcutta and monkeys emerge from the trees to steal the balls from the course.

It’s an absurd situation, but here you are. Even with all your planning, you didn’t factor in the wildlife. Monkeys come with the turf in Calcutta, but they’re hindering your golf games. When they pick up the balls, they drop them back onto the course, rarely in the same place, making score-keeping impossible.

What do you do?


“Charles Preston Oden, Sr.”


You might try to lure them away or build big fences to keep them out, but to no avail—monkeys climb and aren’t bribed by bananas. They continue to ruin your games.

After a lot of frustration and soul-searching, you might come to the conclusion that these monkeys are meant to be on the golf course, so you need to play from where the monkey dropped the ball.

That’s the gist, and the name, of Debora Oden’s new show opening at Lee O’Neil Gallery this week. Where the Monkey Dropped the Ball consists of abstract prints and paintings that confront the artist’s feelings about change and self-reinvention.


Detail, “Don Quixote”


“It’s been a pretty big year for me,” Oden says. “My kids are both in Nebraska with their dad; this is the first time I’ve been without them in 21 years. I’m reflecting on my life and looking at where I need to be, but rooting on this idea on potentially reinventing myself after being a mother.

“I don’t want to say it’s empty nest syndrome, but it has to do with understanding myself better. Having my father pass, having my kids be gone, there’s a joy in finding myself again, like when I was in my twenties, but there’s also a sorrow for something that’s part of our lives.”


“Happy Hotdog/Sinking Dingy”


That’s where the monkey comes in. How will Oden play through this game with the monkey looming overhead, itching to drop another ball onto her course?

The anecdote isn’t entirely hers—she heard it from meditation teacher Tara Brach years ago, who used the story to show how response is important in handling life’s difficulties. For Oden, making art is a form of meditation, so the story really clicked.

Oden, a printmaking professor at SCAD, works in abstract paintings and monoprints for this show. She got her start in etching but picked up printmaking in grad school, when she needed to do something bigger.


“Don Quixote”


“I kept wanting to have work that was bigger than me physically,” she recalls. “I had all these big feelings and felt like I wanted to be lost in the work.”

She considers her paintings to be the most daring of her work, and they certainly encapsulate big feelings with bold colors. One piece has dark swirls that resemble a cloud with rainfall, but through the darkness there’s a singular blue swirl. That same blue swirl shows up in a few other paintings, clearly symbolizing the hope that remains at the end of her dark days.


Detail, “The Iliad”


Thanks to the versatile nature of abstract art, Oden doesn’t skimp on symbolism in this show. In “Don Quixote,” comprised of 21 one-foot panels, she explores the idea of being the fool and searching for truth. While installing the show, she considered layering the prints in a way that represents time by building up a history. All her themes cohesively fit into one another, making the body of work feel that much more personal.

“I’m always trying to make sense of time. I’m not sure if there’s anything to make sense of,” she ponders. “Maybe I’m just supposed to accept it.”

Where the Monkey Dropped the Ball opens at Lee O’Neil Gallery on Friday, May 6 with a reception from 7 – 9pm.

Rachael Flora

Author: Rachael Flora

Rachael is a recent Armstrong grad and works as the Events editor at Connect Savannah. She's an Ohio native and likes being somewhere a bit warmer. In her spare time, she likes to read classic novels, perfect her photography, and watch Netflix in bed.

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