American Zen: The Paintings of Beth Donahue
Beth Donahue: American Zen, will be exhibited in the South Gallery at West Branch from July 1-31, 2015. Beth Donahue’s abstract series “American Zen” are visceral. There’s energy at work here, thickly applied oil paint, paper torn, scraping, gouging, dripping and rubbing. Within this physicality, Donahue contrasts this outpouring with creating a contemplative whole.
“In the studio, I am exhilarated with the physicality and tactile properties of mixed-media and the experimental techniques of gold leaf, tar, wax, paint and collage,” Donahue said. “I think of the stretchers as being the ‘bones’, the canvas as the ‘skin’, and the colors as the ‘personality’ of an idea not yet born. I use the gold leaf to humanize space and elevate the viewers’ experience.”
For this series, Donahue makes use of handmade paper made in her studio; a labor-intensive, messy procedure. She also uses calligraphic passages torn from 19th-century children’s text books. These pages, as collage, are visual rather than intellectual. Never using preliminary drawings or sketches for her paintings, she said, “This process can create moments of angst. I have to take risks, accepting the element of chance. Putting all this energy, color, and mixed-media texture on in the beginning, and working until the piece is refined by subtraction, is always liberating.”
Stylistically, Donahue’s work rests firmly with boldly painted, non-representational imagery where language and painting are infused with spirit. She is influenced by the literary works and teachings of Hindu and Zen Masters as well as nature’s kaleidoscope of patterns and forms. “I am drawn to and respond to the multiplicity of repetitive patterns which occur at different scales in nature. These forms repeatedly surface throughout my paintings,” she said.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and now living in Stowe, Beth Donahue attended Regis College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She is a recipient of the Grand Prix de Paris, the Chapelle de la Sorbonne, the Grand Prix d’Aquitaine d’Arts Plastiques, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Commanderie d’Unet, the Soho International Competition Award and The Copley Society Master Award. The Salon Du Vieux Colombier in Paris chose several of Beth’s paintings to represent the United States in a traveling exhibition exchange with Paris, London, Tokyo and Beijing. Her work is represented internationally in permanent corporate and private collections.
“I am most centered when I am painting,” Donahue said. “For me, the act of painting is emotionally nourishing. It creates a meditative space. And because abstract art is non-literal, it can take you to places where the confines of description cannot. Painting for me requires complete surrender, tweaking the genie within to respond. I consider the studio my sanctuary.”
BETH DONAHUE ARTIST STATEMENT
I am most centered when I am painting. Abstract Art being non-literal can take you places where the confines of description cannot. “American Zen Series” goes beyond surface, form and color into other dimensions of time, space and identity, areas not easily categorized or articulated. The core of my work can be read as having a meditative quality, passages which are at their quietest, contemplative and at their most energized, fully brazen.
In this series, non-comfort zones are visited where space is viscerally assaulted by thickly applied paint that is scraped, gouged, dripped and rubbed on the surface. In contrast, there are anonymous spaces, contemplative, womb-like places where the paintings are allowed to breathe. In the studio, I am exhilarated with the physicality and tactile properties of mixed media as my choice of expression on linen and handmade paper. While constructing the framework for a new piece, I think in terms of the stretchers as being the “bones”, the canvas as being the “skin” and the colors as being the “personality” of an idea not yet born.
My inspiration is interior and is impacted by nature’s kaleidoscope of patterns and forms. I am drawn to and respond to the multiplicity of repetitive patterns which occur at different scales in nature. These forms repeatedly surface throughout my paintings. Acknowledgement of the Zen experience is also a major influence in my life and work and is related to the literary works and teachings of the great Hindu and Zen Masters.
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