Donna Brown’s Paintings
Donna’s painting is innocent painting. It has not yet eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, nor felt any shame. Donna acquaintance with the art of painting amounts to what her eye has tasted – and it has tasted a great deal. It appears, however, that she settles for her love of painting, and does not seek reasons for her likes in formulae and theory. She instinctively loves or rejects, without prejudice, without a priori suspicion.
She is motivated by necessity, by a pair of mutually inseparable inner drives: let us call the first of these the ’poetic impulse,’ and the second – the ‘drive for precision.’ The two are interdependent, as in poetry and music. It is on their combination that the essence depends; on their congruence or matching (for the sake of precision, I shall quote the definition of the term as given by the Even Shoshan Hebrew Dictionary: “bringing two things into mutual correlation, fitting together two things, such as matching colors in a painting, etc.”).
The state of apt correspondence (Even Shoshan: “the agreement of things with one another”) is the work’s very goal, its coveted condition. Donna constructs “her” correspondence by sheer intuition – in terms of the careful choice of each color – and with an equally sheer and total passion for precision regarding their invocation onto the surface, their combination and balanced manifestation in form. Thus it may be said that in her work, the unity of form is akin to harmony (“accord, a pleasing combination”) that is based on correlation (“mutual affinity, a logical, close relation existing between two variables, the interdependence between two concepts”).
I ask her how she chooses the first color: “For the first ten or fifteen years I selected randomly; since the mid 1980s, I begin with a light shade” she replies.
She began painting, as far as she can remember, in 1974. While she says she never studied painting, I have seen a few of her pencil drawings from “those days” that display a surprisingly equal measure of precision and sharpness.
She likes very specific colors, and certainly has a palette of her own. In the past, when creating several oil paintings, she mixed the oil paints on the palette. With pastels, her predominant medium since the mid 1970s, she tends to avoid mixing the shades, and prefers using the particular hue provided by the virtually boundless spectrum of industrially produced colors and shades.
Her favorite colors have “first names” given by the manufacturer, conveying their identity with greater or lesser success. Donna reviews them for me: from the mid 1970s to the early 1980’s these were relatively vivid colors called pale blue, emerald green, sky blue, deep green, black sepia, red, crimson, rose, mauve, permanent yellow, yellow orange, yellow green… Since the mid 1980s their names have been pale orange, Naples yellow, brilliant yellow, turquoise green, red violet, pale green, olive brown, black, green gray, rose gray, blue violet…
Donna has always liked painters who use bold, “live” colors. In this context she mentions the vividly colored painting of Alan Davie she saw in her parents’ collection as a child. She likes Kirchner, Kandinsky and Sonia Delaunay, Matisse and Picasso, painters of the second half of the twentieth century such as Nicolas de Stael, Larry Rivers, Richard Diebenkorn, as well as Israeli artists such as Ori Reizman, Lea Nikel, and Yehezkel Streichman.
Her own colors are not as vivid as those employed by the Expressionists she likes. They are not “live” colors (we are unaware of the fact that the “live” colors of the Fauvists were “raw” colors…). As in their case, so in hers, color precedes form. Similarly, the touch of the pastel on the paper is direct, as in the touch of color squeezed out of the tube directly onto the canvas. Here, however, the similarity ends. In Donna’s case, the nuance matters. Take, for instance, the black that used to be sepia black and is now ostensibly pure black. (Every printer, I am reminded, knows that black has scores of nuances). After all, black was the “color“ of the paintings created by her late uncle Aika, paintings that she has always loved. In her own work, however, black is the exception: “Sometimes I envelop the form with black, as if to protect it, i.e. the form, which is intimate, like a womb.”
Donna knows, or rather senses the truism formulated by Kandinsky, another one of her favorite painters, in reference to the analytical study of the elements: “First comes the color, which is more readily accessible, then the form.”
I ask her: “How do you continue to select your colors?” – “The same way one chooses a fruit in a fruit bowl,” she says, “I first extend my hand and eventually make a choice.”
As to form, Donna unfolds her experimentation: “During the first twelve years I painted on the entire surface. Since 1975-78 I started, almost unconsciously, leaving the background as a ‘negative space.’ I consider the white void an integral part of the painting. The voids are part of the form.” Donna also speaks of “forms that operate within themselves.” (Perhaps she said: “from within themselves”.)
The forms she shows me, are always rounded – “The opposite of symmetrical. Only rarely do sharp forms emerge, almost unheedingly.”
Matisse, yet another favorite artist, wrote in reference to his Fauvist period: “The artist, encumbered with all the techniques of the past and present, asked himself: ‘What do I want?’ This was the dominating anxiety of Fauvism. If he starts from within himself, and makes just three spots of color, he finds the beginning of a release from such constraints.”
Donna indeed starts from within herself, as aforesaid, unencumbered by “all the techniques of the past and present.”
I ask: “Do you dream of colors?”
Donna replies: “I dream of colors and I dream in colors.”