GalleriesWest Spring 2008
Preview by Lorne Roberts
The recent creative history of Winnipeg brings up a number
of successful artists influenced by Dadaists, graffiti art, and outsider artists
like Henry Darger. The result is a form of fun, quirky Art Brut, but one that
never sacrifices content for laughs. Winnipeg artist Dan Donaldson falls
somewhere in that tradition, creating work with a whimsical, even childish side,
with a more fully faceted perspective than might be at first apparent.
In his latest exhibition at Winnipeg's Semai Gallery,
Donaldson uses ink and Hi-Liter markers to create a series of nearly two dozen
drawings that reproduce - down to bits of scotch tape, old photographs, and
cut-and-paste bits of text - the look of collage. This is familiar territory for
those who have seen his work before, including his 2007 solo show at aceart,
which the Winnipeg Free Press named one of the city's top exhibitions of
the year. In that show, Donaldson borrowed images from Life Magazine and
other pop culture sources, producing a large series of interconnected paintings
that also reproduced the cut-and-paste look of collage.
Here, rather than painting, he's produced more of a high
school notebook aesthetic, both in the medium and in the overall look of the
show - apparently random doodles, blended together to form larger, cohesive
images. In addition to the cut-and-paste works are works that feature dozens of
tiny cigarettes, beer bottles, or eyeballs, crammed together and interconnected.
Artists like American graffitist Barry McGee come to mind,
with his giant installations of hundreds of individually framed drawings and
images, and there's no denying how that influence has crept into the work of
some prominent Winnipeg artists over the last decade or so. Donaldson, though,
combines his images less frantically than an artist like McGee, and the result
is work that often looks like a patchwork quilt, with bits of cast-off things
seemingly sewn or stitched or glued together to form a whole.
It's not surprising that the artist claims the Dadaists as
an influence, such as in the piece Little Rauschenberg, where he
name-drops one of the early collage artists, and where he adds, over the
carefully drawn wood grain, the phrase "art sucks". This practice of adding
words actually turns several of the drawings into short, illustrated poems.
Butter Churner, for example, over its background of wood grain, street
signs, and random images, advises us, in several different fonts, to 'stop
baking tarts the old fashioned way'. The text has been changed, though, a few
letters crossed out and altered, so that "baking tarts" becomes "making art".
Donaldson has said that he finds writing about art to be
difficult, and that it's better just to make it, but in its use of text, and in
its self-aware and self-referential style, the work goes beyond the making of
art for its own sake. Aside from its initial visual impact, then, Donaldson's
work follows the Dadaist tradition of art becoming an ongoing critical discourse
with itself, a way to question the very act of art-making even as it is in
Original article on the website of GalleriesWest