Discovering the Abstract Naturalism of Donna Shaffer

Underwater Greenery, Paintings10 x 12

Donna Shaffer paints compositions inspired by nature in colored inks on paper and board as though with a brush dipped in liquid light. At the same time, she admits, “I have never felt that an artist can improve on nature, but I have always tried to interpret, through my work, how nature presents itself to me. I consider myself an abstract naturalist artist. Simple things like tree roots, the way water washes over rocks, or the color of autumn leaves, give me ideas for my work.”    
    Thus she translates even an olfactory sensation into visual terms in “Smell of Autumn in the Air,” in which delicate golden breeze-blown leaves swirl against a brilliant green and bright yellow background. The picture evokes that elegiac moment at the end of summer when the sun is still shining brightly and some of the foliage remains verdant, yet the feeling of fall already permeates the atmosphere. It is a poetic epiphany as simple and direct as a Japanese haiku heralding the change of seasons with a few precise phrases. 
    Another composition in ink on board called “Ice Dreams” encapsulates the essence of winter in cool blue hues heightened with a small area of red, suggesting nothing less than the visceral reaction that a chill can produce in the bodies of human beings and other warm-blooded creatures. The subtlety of her compositions, as well as their intimate scale, can be likened to that of the Seattle artists Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, both of whom take inspiration from the misty atmospherics of Asian ink painting, but interpret them in their own abstract manner.
    In dramatic contrast to the previous painting, another work entitled “Color Against My Garden Wall” is a warm chromatic bath for the eyes, with its sun-splashed yellow, green, and brown forms overlapping in luminous translucent layers.
    In a recent artist statement, Shaffer, a sculptor as well as a painter, says: “Once I have the mental image of an idea I can begin working to capture the varied elements of nature’s design. Most of my sculpture materials are found in the environment. All types of wood, branches and roots are incorporated in my work. Clay, that is pit or barrel fired, is another major component of my work. I am also raku firing some of my newer pieces. Recently I have begun to use glass to provide color. I am always looking for new materials that will bring another dimension to my work.”
    It would appear that Shaffer utilizes natural materials in her paintings as well as in her sculptures, employing them as relief-printing materials to create the leaf forms that enliven compositions such as “Summer Time” and “Secrets of the Rainforest.” While the former ink on board has the delicacy of a Chinese scroll painting, albeit with the monochromatic tones of Asian art replaced by vibrant green and yellow hues, the latter is a considerably more densely concentrated composition, swirling energetically with rhythmical arrangements of deeper verdant colors. Even more heightened chromatic contrasts come into play in “Firestorm,” a completely abstract explosion of blazing reds, yellows and purples set against more subdued blue and purple hues. In this work, we glimpse yet another aspect of Donna Shaffer’s highly personal, sublimely refined aesthetic sensibility.                             –– Sidney Gilbert    

Donna Shaffer, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street,
June 4 - June 25, 2013,
Reception: Thurs. June 6, 6 -8 pm

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