- Inverted Starburst Diamond | John Donovan | Oil on canvas | 2016
John Donovan has always been enamored with color. When Donovan used to buy pigments in the East Village, he said he felt like he was buying drugs—an artistic high of sorts. "I started to collect pigments like some people collect butterflies," he says. "I was hooked on color."
Even as a teenager, Donovan was fascinated with art—choosing trips to the Metropolitan Museum over the beach or baseball games. While his artistic process has changed over the years, Donovan says he's always been intuitive and studied in his approach. In the '80s, he tried his hand at minimalist color paintings. He used to spray acrylics to eliminate the brushstrokes—but found it too difficult to achieve the exact shades he sought. He was always chasing the "flattest matte finish" and the brightest color possible without using white paint. Nowadays, Donovan achieves his "two-dimensional and non-objective work" by building-up layers of oil paint. "I don't mind that from a distance the paintings are stark and very graphic but at closer range look like a handmade painting," he says.
Donovan finds inspiration in many places—great art, everyday experience, the physical universe, and technology—as well as two artists in particular, Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd. One night while walking past Judd's building on Mercer Street, Donovan saw the paintings of Swiss artist Richard Lohse through the ground-floor windows. Anytime he was nearby, he walked past the building to view Lohse's paintings. "Lohse's paintings and a comment from my brother about my dull paintings influenced me to turn my palette to full chroma."
Where other artists may use color to evoke emotional response, Donovan uses a full spectrum of color to create a sense of unity, completeness, and balance. Each painting has its own color system and every system communicates a different message. "One's perception of a color is changed depending on what color it is next to," he says. "I am not as interested in a particular color as I am about a system of colors." This month's cover image, Inverted Starburst Diamond, embodies these beliefs. In separating the warm and cool sides of the spectrum, and then connecting them from light to dark with a starburst motif, Donovan has created what he sought: a painting full of visual motion.
Donovan's newest show, "Spectrum Observed," opened on August 18 at FRG Objects & Design / Art in Hudson. Featuring 26 paintings created mostly in the last two years, the show also includes four 15-year-old paintings meant to offset and anchor Donovan's newer work—which was the idea of Principal Curator Rick Gillette. "He knew exactly how he wanted the show to look," Donovan says. "When hanging the show, Rick was like a kid in his own candy store." Of the paintings themselves, Donovan hopes people will think more deeply about artistry and their own visual and mental perception. And while art should be about observing, Donovan also believes it should have a sense of wonder. "I want my work to have a joy of life but also return to the fundamental questions of what it is to be alive," he says.
"Spectrum Observed" will be on display until October 15 at FRG Objects & Design / Art in Hudson.