An interview of Dona Mara by fellow NEW member Jeanne Griffin
Tell us a little about yourself:
I grew up as a creative introvert in a large, upstate New York family and began drawing, painting and mark making as a young child expressing my feelings in two dimensions rather than words. Water has a liberating effect on me and our family spent summer vacations on the Niagara River and the Great Lakes. I credit my years of convent schooling for my visual interest in central focus and symmetry. Years of going to mass with the direction toward the altar, which sat centrally in a pre-designed space flanked by statues, flowers, and candles honed the focus. Yearning to lead my creative life I left home at 17 for art school.
Do you have other jobs other than making art. If so, please describe?
Art is both my passion and profession and has sustained me with commercial work, in illustration, graphic design, weaving, painted silk and teaching since obtaining a BFA in illustration/painting at Rochester Institute of Technology in the late sixties. I continued studying with graduate courses in painting while living in Indiana and with private study in the United States and Italy during the eighties. Raising two sons, while moving through five states, required my energy for a twenty year chapter mid career. My sons are my greatest creative works.
At this point I am narrowing down on the commercial projects in order to concentrate on painting.
Where do you live now?
Living in the suburbs of New York City in the nineties, where my husband and I owned and operated an herb, books, and gift store, gave us an opportunity to vacation in Vermont. After 911, with all of our children grown, we moved to Vermont to live closer to the earth and enjoy a simpler life. We grow much of our own food, and harvest herbs for culinary and medicinal use while being active in the arts.
What are your inspirations?
My garden has taught me the essentials of life and remains my inspiration. I approach things haphazardly preferring to learn by observing, experimenting, and finding results. Nature shows me the results of competition, the need for space, balance for growth, the order created when given the needed nutrients, all components that I translate into paintings. My yoga practice and subsequent teaching for 10 years inspired a discipline that connects disparate parts of myself. Richard Diebenkorn, Susan Rothenberg, and Pat Steir have kept me interested in compositional space and detailed texture. I am continually inspired by the prints of Hiroshige.
Describe your process of creating art:
My challenge has been to rein in thoughts and keep myself directed so that I often work in series. Being influenced by my surrounding spaces and the natural world of seasons, changing light and movement has increased my desire to capture beauty. Wabi sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of impermanence, asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, and appreciation of natural objects keeps reoccurring in my thought process as I explore surface texture.
Has your practice change over time and, if so, how and why?
Moving from representative work as an illustrator and oil painter to abstraction felt like a natural progression for the essential meaning in what I was seeing, seeking and translating did not need objects. The result has been a series of abstract works that speak about a sense of place rather than any certain place.
How did you start working with wax?
The discovery of encaustic as a medium seven years ago allowed new levels of layering and transparency to be incorporated into my oil paintings. It also provided an organic element that further connected me to nature. It is one of the many mediums that I actively explore in my studio and have incorporated it into some of my work. For my continuing education, I take workshops with artists whose work I admire, having studied with Daniella Woolf, Kim Bernard and recently completed a second workshop at R&F Paints with Lisa Pressman where I learned more about combining oils and cold wax.
Describe one of your pieces and what you were thinking as you created it.
Recently, I have been experimenting with digital printed images of photos of limbs of trees. After manipulation the image and printing on Japanese paper they become an under surface for oil and cold wax work. The resulting paint hints at glimpses of realism without being wholly representational. These glimpses came about as I considered the short time that people generally spend on viewing art. Snow on Birch is one of a series of 12” x 12” works that evolved from watching the snow and light change on a weeping birch tree out front.