Artist Talk: Rhonda Massel Donovan, 2020 MFA

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Meet Rhonda Massel Donovan, who after years of working in design, chose to toss the corporate roadmap and devote herself to artmaking. Donovan is interested in mapping human interactions and all the complexity of human relationships – sometimes painful, other times joyous, more often a mixture of both. Donovan’s paintings are the visual traces of social exchanges, psychological gashes and scars. Yet through the practice of painting, layering, folding and sewing, Donovan seeks to physically and metaphorically repair wounds and reconcile differences that often damage relationships, such as opposing cultural traditions, religious ideologies or distinct artistic movements. Donovan draws from personal and historical experiences and memories, stating, “I interpret a variety of experiences into gestures and symbols of strength, movement, and the indefinite. I’m not just covering pigment or form with new layers, but (rather) using each as a mending element to build strength, literally and metaphorically.”

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For Battin’ A Hundred, Donovan created four large-scale abstract paintings that hang from the wall like splattered skins or draped tableaus. The colored surfaces are stretched, puckered, furrowed, and sewn with domestic materials such as fabric, linen, paint, paper and thread. The torn, mended and layered paintings weave together the artist’s bank of stories, memoirs and human encounters. Like Helen Frankenthaler’s large-scale paintings that fuse abstract expressionism and diaphanous fields of color, Donovan encrusts her translucent washes with thick, viscous, impasto paint as if piling on the heft of living. Large, gaping pockets emerge from the surface and hold generations of psychological weight, accumulated experiences and ancestral traditions. For Donovan, sewing and pockets are reminiscent of hours spent with her grandmother darning socks, telling stories, or adding pockets to otherwise unadorned dresses. Donovan is a forager and seeks forms and materials that reflect her tales of life, like Faith Ringgold, who expressed moments and stories through a unique manner of painting in textile, or Louise Bourgeois, who said, “My work deals with problems that are pre-gender, in other words psychological (issues) related to the human condition.” Rhonda Massel Donovan is shaping her path by merging traditions, mapping stories and weaving together her own tapestries of the humankind.

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Some fun facts about Rhonda Massel Donovan: Rhonda has been a martial artist for twenty-two years and is a fifth-degree black belt instructor. She studies Korean philosophies of balance that have made their way into her artwork.

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