The Canadian Art Database

Liz Wylie

Lynn Donoghue
Klonaridis Inc., Toronto, November 28 - December 13 1981

Vanguard, Vol. 11 #1, February 1982.
[ 659 words ]

In some ways Lynn Donoghue's work fits neatly into the context or stream of post-Bush, post-Mirvish 'Toronto Painting'. Modernist flatness, an idiosyncratic and engaging use of colour, a light, lyrical mood and a tendency toward the decorative are all present. But, Donoghue is a portraitist, not an abstract painter, and this calls for a closer examination of her work. The artist has been painting portraits of her friends and acquaintances for five years, more recently including various art historical references in the backgrounds. Her paintings have been consistently on a large scale, so that most often, the people are portrayed as larger than life. The scale of the figures relative to the canvas size has usually been such that the figure is large, forcing the quotations from famous paintings to peek in, truncated, from the corners or sides. The sitters are usually shown staring out at the viewer, their bodies aimed frontally toward the picture plane, with the result that they resemble soldiers at attention.

Despite her subjects' vacant gazes, however, Donoghue's paintings are invariably winsome and appealing. She is wonderfully proficient at capturing and conveying a likeness — and making this seem effortless — her pictures never look worried over. A joy in the process of handling paint is very much evident, as is a pleasing resolution between painterly passages and the artist's drawing in paint to define her forms. Areas of visual repose, usually of solid colour, are juxtaposed expertly with those of a more busy or patterned nature. And, Donoghue's choice of oil rather than acrylic is a suitable one for her subject. Convincing flesh tones and light transparencies are achieved and the heavy plasticity which acrylic can sometimes have is avoided.

One wonders about the artist's choice of art historical quotations in each picture. Do these have something to do with the sitter in each case, some particular meaning? There is no way of knowing. Any reason for Philip Monk to be paired with mannerist cherubs in Donoghue's 1981 Et in Arcadia Ego, or for a Giotto 'landscape' to form the backdrop to the painter Joy Walker in Joy Walker with Giotto from 1980 remains obscure. Perhaps these elements are not intended to serve in telling a viewer something about the person portrayed, but simply are an inventive way to fill in dead background space.

A fascination with Manet on the part of the artist emerges, as motifs from his paintings occur more often than any other artist's. One could postulate that Donoghue's style actually reflects some study of Manet: the flat, even lighting in her work, the shunning of tonal modelling, or even modelling with hue, for a reliance on contour could both stem from Manet. Matisse, also, is admired by Donoghue. The decadence of Matisse's Odalisques, for example, is certainly present in Donoghue's remove from her subjects and the confidence with which she combines them with her pastiches.

Donoghue is one of Canada's upward bound young artists, but at this point in her career, she is walking a tightrope. In part, she is a modernist painter; no sentiment or 'literary' values cloud her preoccupation with paint. Yet, she is a portraitist, and, perhaps as a woman artist, feels the need to include aspects of her own life in a representational way. In one sense, however, Donoghue must be holding back from this: a viewer feels taunted by the lack of psychology or character revealed in her portraits. As her work is now, its only content is Donoghue's ideas about art and her own work. This, in itself, is a decadent and tenuous position for an artist. Some sort of synthesis on Donoghue's part would seem necessary to allow her intellectual gifts and artistic talent to blossom in tandem.

Vanguard, Vol. 11 #1, February 1982.

Text: © Liz Wylie. All rights reserved.

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