By Wim Roefs
Quite regularly, painter Edward Rice will walk into if ART Gallery and stop in his tracks, make a beeline for a particular painting, stare at it and proclaim “Wow, look at that!” Then he asks: “Who did that?” The answer usually is: Jeff Donovan.
Both Donovan and Rice work their surfaces and work them and work them to achieve specific colors, tones, textures and spatial effects. But where Rice mostly restricts himself to paints, Donovan’s experiments run wider. “He’ll use everything he can get his hands on,” Rice commented after seeing paintings from Donovan’s Inner City Series.
Donovan spends considerable time making things difficult for himself and better for the rest of us with never-ending experiments that result in exquisite works of art. His many Eureka moments, related to which materials to use and how, typically come with some declaration about having found the perfect way to do thus and such and achieve this or that. Until he finds the next perfect way.
In one of the paintings Rice was looking at, Inner City Series 5 (Depot Man), Donovan used wax, pigmented wax, construction paper, watercolor paper, sandpaper, index card, tile, graphite, litho crayon, prismacolor pencil, charcoal and gouache. In another, Inner City Series 11, he also used wood veneer. Rice commented on dense surfaces, vertical marks, warmth coming from underneath grays and greens, raised surface establishing the pattern of roof tiles, tobacco brown interiors, sandpaper emulating newly surfaced tarmac and thickness suggesting the passing of time. “The work seems to be some kind of early Italian – Modernist hybrid,” he said.
Donovan’s initial impulse is to talk about the geometric compositions rather than surfaces of the Inner City Series, which he began with four paintings in 2010 and continued this year. Only one of the paintings references the human form, which is unusual for Donovan. He first moved his figures from nature-based, organic settings to geometric environments. “Geometrically defined space provided a more interesting contrast to the organic form of the figure than the equally organic forms in nature,” Donovan says. “Then I decided to explore the compositional possibilities of the geometry of architecture without the human form.”
“The dryness of strictly straight lines and the rigorous limitations of basic geometry were offset by the fantastic spatial distortion that I achieved through especially isometric perspective but also one- and three-point perspective and by not separating them as strictly as you would in actual practice.”
But the shift in materials in the current work gets Donovan excited, too. “I used wax as both an adhesive and a paint, which allowed me to employ two new techniques, collage and encaustic. The universality of wax as an adhesive allows for a nearly limitless choice of materials. So far, I have restricted myself to various papers, both regular ones, such as watercolor paper, and more unusual ones, such as sandpaper.”
“With the pigmented wax, I have to my great surprise and delight been able to use most of the dry media such as graphite, charcoal and pastel as well as some water media such as gouache. That has enabled me to achieve an even richer and more varied surface than I can get with a single medium for the entire composition. I am generally pleased with the results, but I am even more excited by future possibilities.”
Wim Roefs is the owner of if ART Gallery