"By air, land or sea"
Dan Donaldson, "By air, land or sea," 2007, hi-liter markers, pen and ink, pencil on paper.
DAN DONALDSON, The Drawn Collage
Semai Gallery, Winnipeg
May 16 to June 28, 2008
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 process.