Being in the Moment: An Interview with Donise English

Carrie Haddad Gallery
Mar 25, 2019 8:38PM

This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal in September of 2018. It was written by Mallika Rao

Donise English working in her Poughkeepsie, NY studio

When it comes to her art, painter and Marist College professor Donise English draws inspiration from working and being in the moment.

“There is really nothing externally that inspires me,” she said. “It’s about simply working and being involved in the process. The sense of touch and the physicality of painting are fundamental.”

Abstract painting is English’s passion, and has been since she was 5 years old.

“I always made art in and out of school,” she said, “and I had a lot of attention and encouragement from my teachers, so it was all good.”

She now has attention and encouragement from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), thanks to a fellowship she received in July. The NYFA has been administering cash grants to artists based in New York state since 1985, and English was ecstatic to finally receive a $7,000 fellowship after having applied 30 times.

“It’s really an affirmation that this organization that I have tremendous respect for decided I was good enough to become a fellow,” she said.

Her perseverance is something she likes to impart on her students as a full-time professor and chairwoman of the Department of Art and Digital Media at Marist College.

“I’ve tried for this for a really long time, and I think it’s really important to keep at it,” she said. “There will be a lot of ‘nos’ but they don’t really matter. You just have to have faith in yourself and keep going.”

English is especially honored to have been recognized among a group of 89 artists from an applicant pool of more than 3,000, working in a variety of fields, from writing to film. Many of these artists work and live in New York City, but English said she loves being an artist working 90 miles outside of the city.

“New York City is the center of contemporary art, but this is a beautiful area,” she said. “It’s a great place to live and work.”

A look inside Donise English's light filled studio in Poughkeepsie, NY

English has had work presented in city-based galleries before. Earlier this year, she was part of a group exhibition, “JuxtaPositions,” which was featured in the Painting Center in Manhattan. The show was centered around putting together ideas that do not appear to coincide.

When it comes to finding galleries to exhibit her work, English looks for places that have shown other artists whose work she admires.

“The reputation of the space and who they’ve had in the past are important for me,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, so I have to make sure it’s a good place to make that effort for.”

English is represented by the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson. She has a show in the gallery every year, and her most recent exhibition there was “Peculiar Rarities,” in which she exhibited some of her abstract sculpture alongside a few other artists.

English's encaustic paintings featured in Contemporary Artists at Carrie Haddad Gallery | March-April 2019

English's encaustic paintings featured in Contemporary Artists at Carrie Haddad Gallery | March-April 2019

Free standing fiber sculptures featured in Peculiar Rarities at Carrie Haddad Gallery | March 2018

Encaustic and paper wall sculptures featured in Interlock at Carrie Haddad Gallery | March - April 2017

English’s work as a professor allows her the freedom to paint during the summer break.

“I get paid to teach,” she said. “When I have my summers off, I’m in the studio every day.”

Her studio is the place for her to work on a variety of projects at once. She makes paintings and sculpture at the same time in a studio adjacent to her home.

“It’s like a job,” she said. “I’m out there for the day working. Some days are great and very productive; on others you don’t see much progress.”

When she faces a creative block on one piece, she sets her sights on another.

“When you get stuck on one thing, you can’t just sit there,” she said. “I don’t like to sit still.”

During the summertime, she also gets the opportunity to oversee an interior design program at Marist’s campus in Florence, Italy. For English, this allows her to explore her love of architecture and art history, the latter of which she majored in as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

“All the museums and churches are fabulous, and the landmarks in the textbooks are all there,” she said.

After graduating from SUNY New Paltz, English briefly lived in New York City and studied an architecture program at Columbia University before deciding to return to the Hudson Valley to get her Master’s of Fine Arts in Painting at Bard College.

It was at Bard where English learned what it takes to make it as a painter.

“The thing about undergraduate school is that you get a lot of attention from your instructors, but when you go to graduate school, you learn to work on your own,” she said. “You learn to be your own critic.”

As a professor, English praises the students who do commendable work, but also encourages them to make mistakes.

“They should make mistakes,” she said. “If you don’t, it means you’re not trying. It’s important to keep reaching and work through problems.”

Another important lesson English likes to bestow on her students is to love what they’re doing.

“If my students are not loving the process of making a painting, for instance, then they need to talk to me so that we can make it a passion,” she said.

Donise English's latest work is on view at Carrie Haddad Gallery until April 21st. The gallery is located at 622 Warren Street in Hudson, NY and is open daily, 11 - 5pm.

Carrie Haddad Gallery