Friday, October 6, 2006

Essay: Jeff Donovan

Man Considering Bird, 2006
Oil pastel on canvas
12 x 12 in

Jeff Donovan
by Wim Roefs

Jeff Donovan speaks of his art mostly on a technical and formal level rather than in terms of content. “My images,” he says, “evolve from a process of staining a surface with a mottled tone in which suggestions of form and space are discerned. Inevitably, the forms revealed are figures, owing to a prejudice on my part for that particular subject.

“Once the subject and the broad compositional framework have been determined, my concerns are largely with formal elements – movement, balance, color and tonal harmony or dissonance, texture, etcetera.”

The figure marks Donovan’s art, both in his paintings and ceramic sculptures. When a few years ago he began to create ceramic sculpture, Donovan to a large extent used the figures in his paintings as the impetus for his clay pieces. Sometimes the clay figures are a close translation of one painted earlier, but always clay and painted figures display similar characteristics. 

Those figures and the context they find themselves in are characterized by a wicked combination of wackiness and humor, solitude and lonesomeness, naturalist rendering and physiological incorrectness, cartoon-like and pensive qualities, expressiveness and disconnectedness, activity and stillness. Many a situation in Donovan’s paintings has a Surrealist or Magic-Realist twist. And with his figures it’s often hard to tell whether they are deeply depressed or perfectly at peace with themselves and the world. 

Three Monks hang out, cool-dude-like, at least one of them having a smoke. The Kneeling Woman is defined as much by her elongated neck bowing forward with her hair hanging down than by the fact that she’s on one knee. The guy in Hanging Out might just as easily be resting contently after a swim or wondering in desperation what to do with the rest of his life. With the Man Considering Bird, it’s not entirely clear whether the man is holding his chin contemplatively with his left hand or holding his entire, possibly detached head to keep it somewhat in place. In Striped Ties Are In, a big foot runs into a thin ankle/neck that supports a small human head; a yellow tie with red stripes hangs around the ankle/neck.

“My methodology dictates a somewhat inventive anatomy,” Donovan says, “making the figures less representational and more reflective of psychological and emotional states of being. My intent is for the final image to first register with the viewer on an emotional/intuitive level before engaging them intellectually. 

What his figures’ “psychological and emotional states” might be is a question that goes unanswered. “I’ll let you know when I come up with something.”

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