At Gomez, Donelson probes for truth, McGuire finds beauty and joy

December 08, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Deborah Donelson has written a longish and not altogether enlightening artist's statement to accompany the show of her paintings at Gomez, but I am drawn back instead to a phrase that she used to describe her work when she was in a four-person show in Howard County earlier this year. Her art, she wrote, resulted from "scratching around for fragments of being."

And that's exactly what it looks like.

Created on paper with a combination of materials including oil paint,pencil and colored pencil, Donelson's works include graffiti-like scrawls, scribbles, awkward-looking animals or fish and sometimes an additional head grouped around a central figure rendered in unreal colors and looking out at us with a gaze at once penetrating and bewildered.

These characters do appear to result from the artist's intense probings for some truth that is at once personal and universal. They have a childlike quality on one level, but are obviously the product of deep soul-searching. And at the same time, there's an element of humor, of consciousness of the absurdity of it all, about them.

a number of them, death in some form accompanies the main figure. In "Don't Look Back" it's a skull, and both it and the title -- a reference to Satchell Paige's famous maxim "Don't look back; something might be gaining on you" -- are reminders that death )) gains on us every minute.

"The Long Ride" has two main figures, one of which holds a skeleton-like doll while the other rides a hobby horse. The ride of life, this juxtaposition tells us, isn't so long after all. The two figures' multicolored legs ending in pump-shod feet add that touch of the ridiculous that here and there gives these works a leavening dose of humor. There's another dose in "Two Sisters," one of whom has breasts in the form of fish. Fish also appear in other works, a symbol of evolution, perhaps, or of the fact that we are are all related in a sharing of life, the world and its resources.

Donelson is one of those artists whose works feed on one another profitably up to a point; you know much more about what they mean after seeing 10 than after seeing two. But because of their similarity to one another there comes a point of diminishing returns, when interest begins to wane, and that happens here. She can also be over-ambitious, as with "Xenophora," which is too cluttered and jumbled. But she's wrestling with something real about life,and so it's meaningful to encounter her work.

Where has Patrick F. McGuire been hiding all these years, and why haven't we seen more of his marvelous little sculptures, some of which are on view in the smaller gallery at Gomez? For the past quarter of a century he has taught at Morgan State University, but I can't remember ever seeing anything by him before.

Figurative sculpture can look old-fashioned, but McGuire's combinations of people and animals and birds, executed in welded steel, are a delight. They exist and interact in a whimsical, slightly surreal world of happy song and dance and play, but they never cross the line into the cute or the precious.

In "Joyous Flight" a woman runs after a long-legged bird as big as she is; her hair and arms stream out behind her, and you can just tell that both woman and bird are having a good time. McGuire's sculptures proclaim that there is beauty and joy in nature, and in our natures, too, if we can just reclaim those qualities.


What: Deborah Donelson paintings and Patrick F. McGuire sculptures

Where: The Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Dec. 31

Call: (410) 752-2080

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