Doonan's photos take aim at unusual still lifes

Bennington Banner
January 16, 2004

Cambridge, N.Y. -- David Doonan will be exhibiting his photographs at The Small Gallery in the Valley Artisans Market. The show runs from Jan. 17 until Feb. 4. The public is invited to an opening reception on Saturday, Jan. 17 from 4 until 6 p.m.

Doonan's new work, inspired in part by the European tradition of still life painting, focuses on how the human and animal figure is presented for sale.

The motivation behind why someone would crowd a flea market table with a painting of Madonna and Child, beside a grinning skull and a life-sized wall plaque of a golden eagle was the starting point for this project.

Did the shop keeper really think that placing a row of bare breasted vixens beneath pregnant women and religious statues would increase the sales of either line? Who could possibly have thought of transforming Baby Jesus' manger into a rocking horse?

Doonan said "I am not some solemn seeker of truth or Freudian devotee. Rather I'm just an ordinary person, armed with a camera, looking for something to make me laugh."

The photographs on exhibition were composed in flea markets, antique shops and storefronts from Montreal to Tijuana. While Doonan presently works with a digital camera, all of the images here are presented "as is." None of the objects were re-arranged, and were printed full frame, without any manipulation.

David Doonan has been photographing since 1972. He studied photography at Mercer County Community College, Trenton, N.J, The Center For Photographic Studies in Louisville, Ky. and earned a bachelor of fine arts from The Cooper Union in New York City in 1977.

His work was widely exhibited in New Jersey during the 1970s and 1980s.

This is his first solo exhibition since 1986. He is presently self-employed as a web designer in Greenwich.

Valley Artisans Market is located at 25 East Main St., Cambridge. Small Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10-5. For more information, call 518-677-2765.

Found Art

Seeing the accidental

The Post Star
January 12, 2004
by Martha Petteys

You won't find a wider grin than the one on the face of the Mr. Peanut sitting among a tangle of frizzy-haired maidens.

For lack of a manger, Baby Jesus found himself on the back of a plastic horse. The slouching Raggedy Andy looks like he took a few nips from the bottle at his side.

These are the strange, untampered-with scenes photographer David Doonan finds while trolling through flea markets, antiques stores and yard sales.

European painters were known to spend hours, even days, arranging objects for their still lifes. Doonan gets satisfaction in finding his bizarre and often humorous scenes arranged haphazardly by strangers.

"Basically, when I go out to do this work, I am just looking for stuff that will make me laugh," said Doonan, sitting in his Greenwich home studio.

Over the last two years, Doonan has amassed three to four hundred photographs of sales table scenes that have struck him as odd. He has chosen two dozen for his exhibit, "Found Tableaux," at the Valley Artisans Market in Cambridge Jan. 17 through Feb. 4.

Doonan became a flea market regular in the 1970s, living in New Jersey. He would wander through the rows of "junk" in the early morning hours, talking with the peddlers, snapping off photographs.

His most recent series was inspired by the sight of a Madonna and Child portrait, next to a brass eagle and a skull. The wild table combination got him seeing things in a new way, he said.

His eyes became trained, looking for arrangements that would give him chuckle, like the pair of Ken dolls lounging on the deck of Noah's ark.

He takes the photos as he sees them, without moving or altering the objects in any way.

Most don't mind Doonan's prying digital eye, though there have been a few objectors. Some have accused him of being a competitor trying to get an edge.

He's also been mistaken for a government agent on the hunt for people who don't pay their sales taxes and even for a terrorist.

Doonan explains that he is just an ordinary person with a camera, looking for something to make him laugh.

Then, he leans in for a photo of a dozen topless Barbie dolls.

David Doonan's Photos Enliven TAWA Exhibit at Ellarslie

The Sunday Times, Trenton, N.J.
June 15, 1986
by Susan Doan-Johnson

Thank goodness for David Doonan. His witty photographs dress up an otherwise pedestrian exhibition at Ellarslie.

The exhibit is the second in the "TAWA At Ellarslie 86'" series at the Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park. Also included are tempera works by Guy Ciarcia and wire sculptures by Betty Parsons.

In nearly three dozen black and white photographs, Doonan tells the story of life in the Trenton area through some of its annual events. While these events nominally are the subject of the photographs, the focus is on the people who attend.

Doonan sees his photographs as cynical. "While these gatherings are meant to be the celebrations of our community, sometimes it's difficult to view them through non-cynical eyes," Doonan says. "The first time attended the Memorial Day parade in Hamilton Square, I had to laugh at all the comfortable, white suburbanites prancing around in war-paint and headdresses. I shall never forget the woman wandering around the dog show at Washington's Crossing, crying aloud for someone to buy her dog because he came in last in his class again."

Doonan's photographs aren't composed perfectly, and this is what makes them so charming and so human. For instance, in "Mondale Campaigning in Trenton," we only see the candidate's left eye and the part in his hair through a sea of members of the media, their cameras and microphones. A comment on the excesses of the media, perhaps?

In "Trenton CYO Cheerleader Class," a 1974 photograph, the earnest girls form a pyramid, but Doonan has cut off the head of the girl on the top, and the legs of the girls on the bottom. A balloon of Mickey Mouse's face seemingly replaces that of some politican n the 1982 version of "Bordentown's 300th Birthday." And in "Hamilton Square Memorial Day Parade, 1984" a baton twirler dejectedly limps along, not bothering to hide her disappointment at the rain that has ruined her parade.

Perhaps Doonan's funniest photograph is one that does not contain any people, and could have been taken any day if it weren't for the sign hanging on the front of the fried chicken business. It reads, "Geo. Washington Ate Here," which obviously he did not. The photograph is titled "1984 Commemoration of the Battle of Trenton."

As much as Doonan's photos delighted us, Ciarcia's and Parson's works disappointed.

Ciarcia's tempera paintings have intriguing names, such as "Prayer Cloth," "The Vestal's Transgression" and "Parabiotic I and II." But the works don't live up to the titles. They are uninteresting series of blocks arranged vertically or horizontally. Some overlap, and in one, "The Spiral," done in purple silver and gold, the blocks swirl around in a circle.

Ciarcia has participated in some prestigious group exhibits, including those at the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New Jersey State Museum and New York University. He currently is a teacher in the Trenton public school system.

Parson's wire sculptures are harder to figure out. Most are made of wire, paper and paint, with wood, plaster and clay thrown in for good measure on some. They are on the floor, hanging from the wall and on pedestals. One looks like an attempt at the Statue of Liberty's arm an torch, but the other efforts are childlike. All 16 are called "Untitled," a practice we find too coy.

Parsons is the recipient of a sculpture award at "Sweet Pea '83," in Bozeman, Montana and the 1982 David Gaiser Award for Sculpture at the "34th Spokane Annual" in Spokane, Washington. She currently is a faculty member at Mercer County Community College.

This second in the "TAWA at Ellarslie 86" series continues through June 29 at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park. Hours; Monday through Friday, 11 am - 3 pm, Sunday, 2-4 pm, closed Saturdays.


Four Artists Showcased in Ellarslie Exhibit

The Sunday Times, Trenton, New Jersey
May 13, 1984
by Susan Doan-Johnson

There is something about those houses in David Doonan's photographs.

They're really quite odd, with the one side fresh and modern, the other side considerably older and a bit run down. They're also quite appealing.

Doonan calls them schizophrenic.

"I can still remember quite vividly the day that I first became aware of schizophrenic houses," he writes. "It was in the spring of 1977, a Saturday with warm temps and blinding sunlight . . ."

"Louie and I left his house in Mercerville and headed for South Trenton. We parked the car, and there it was. One pair in the center of a string of wooden row houses. The left, shining behind new aluminium siding and the right, wooden with peeling paint.

It looked as if the owners hadn't spoken to each other for years. We both photographed it, laughed and walked on, closing our eyes to a neighborhood filled with such houses."

And so began Doonan's interest in the "schizophrenic" houses he found in the Trenton area. A good selection of his photos is on display in the first of four exhibits in the "Sixteen Artists '84" spring-summer series at Ellarslie, The Trenton City Museum.

In each of the four exhibits, four artist from the Trenton Artists Workshop Association will be featured. The current exhibition, which runs through May 29, includes photographs of David Doonan, etchings, watercolors, and handmade paper by Annelies van Dommelen of Lambertville; wooden sculpture constructions by Barry Snyder of New Hope, and oil paintings by Barbara Klein of Lawrenceville.

It was six years before Doonan noticed another "schizophrenic" house. "This time I fortunately kept my blinkers off," he writes. "One could discuss ad infinitum the motives behind such facelifting, whether the respective owners talk to each other, and do they care what the other half looks like?"

"Do they do certain alterations to please themselves or annoy the neighborhood? Are they improving the value of the building, and/or reflecting the owner's ideal of how he wishes the world to view him?

". . . I am not especially interested in finding out about the people inside these houses. I am, however, thankful for what they have done. For if one can remove ones blinders and biases and look at these houses, and countless others like them, as visual objects, they can become yet one more rich and joyous visual experience in our lives."

Visitors to Ellarslie first encounter Barry Snyder's constructions in the hall by the staircase. They are humorous, tender warm and fascinating, especially "Mother With Child."

Moving into the room where the constructions are displayed (the works of each artist are in separate rooms) the visitor could be overwhelmed, but the large, sunlit room is perfect to capture their spirit, allowing just enough space around each.

These artworks drawn from recognizable objects are a curious lot. Synder takes the objects, adding a little bit here and a little bit there, to create works of art that have new identities. But don't get too caught up in trying to figure out what used to be what. Just enjoy.

"Thirty-five years of studying and collecting in the arts have contributed to my intuitive abilities as a sculptor," Synder writes. "Primitive art has been a strong influence on my work, as I feel these artists have created some of the most beautiful and universal forms made by man."

His link with primitive art is evident in the touching "Mother and Child" and the haunting "Memories of Ancient Voyages," among others. "Joy and Sorrow," an old violin case opened up, looks like a pair of slightly sinister tribal masks. "Universal Love," "Noble Spirit," and "Dancing Bear" are quite whimsical.

Annelies van Dommelen professes "a short attention span for individual mediums but a wide span for the total learning process of "artistic expression."

The three mediums Van Dommelen prefers, paperwork, etching/embossing and watercolor, strike a balance. "Working with varying tightness and looseness produces a symbiotic relationship between the pieces," the artist says.

The handmade paper in the show is beautiful and, at last check, is selling quite well. The rough texture of the paper is augmented by interesting doodads: some even sparkle, such as the magnificent "Flash," which really does flash.

"The paperwork is appealing to my sense of educated play - bringing into it lost arts of previous years such as embroidery, beadwork and papier mache," the artist says.

Van Dommelen's etchings are detailed and precise and people with muscular, faceless figures, often with a flexed leg to show off taut muscles. "The etching/embossing is a practice of patience, surprise, mistakes, uncontrollable textures along with what is obviously fine-lined and definite," Van Dommelen writes.

The muscular figures reappear in some of the watercolors, most notably "I Can Recall My Desire," a bizarre struggle, and "Last Dance," a free flowing work. "Face It" is a very disturbing work, full of hard, sharp angles.

"Watercolor - an old and 'never finished' love. Expression, human conditions, design, controlling water and color, impossible perfection, challenge, therapy," Van Dommelen writes. "Excitement and disappointment are constant in my watercolors."

Barbara Klein mixes wax, and sometimes sand, with her oil paints to create an unusual, inviting texture.

Forms dissolve into waxy suggestions of objects. The figures in "Three Swimmers" are there, sort of, as three flesh-colored balls "swimming" in a vast, black, "pool". And in "Big Floater" the grey figure reclines in black space.

"Enemy Within and Without" is a malevolent piece in black with touches of bright red and a dark black-red suggesting blood.


Trenton Offering Art Doubleheader

The New York Times
Sunday, July 26, 1981
by Vivien Raynor

New Jersey artists, known and unknown, are getting attention in both of Trenton's museums right now. At the State Museum through August 30 is a major retrospective by Jacob Landau, the printmaker, while at the City Museum in cadwalder Park is the third in a series of shows by local protagonists. This exhibition , which will continue through Thursday, is co-sponsored by the museum and the Trenton Artists Workshop Association.

Mr. Landau, who is nearly 75 years old, was born in Philadelphia, but has lived for almost 30 years in the Monmouth County community of Roosevelt. He trained at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, the New School for Social Research and academies in Paris. On the faculty of Pratt Institute since 1957, Professor Landau is a successful commercial illustrator and designer and, in addition, has produced several suites of prints. His major works include lithographs illustrating John Ciardi's translation of "The Divine Comedy" and the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman.

Focusing mainly on the last three decades, the exhibition indicates that Mr. Landau's style has been determined to a great extent by the mediums he has worked in. Wood- and lino cutting encouraged the spiky and stricated forms for which he was initially known, while lithography, which Professor Landau turned to in the 60"s, yield cleaner, more rounded shapes and a more Surrealist atmosphere. The subject of humanity has been a constant throughout.

This artist's vision of humanity took on in Europe after World War II. Like Leonard Baskin's, which it often resembles, it is very much the product of the stylized realism that derived from Picasso in his Surrealist phase. The sculptor, Marion Marini, with his short-bodied, stilt-legged figures loaded with connotations of war and displacement, was perhaps the movement's chief ornament. In any event, few representational artists of the time were able to resist a mode that dealt with "big" themes.

Mr Landau seems to fit his figures and animals into a pre-existing vision, much like carvers who subordinate their forms to the character and shape of the black. Consequently, it is sometimes hard to figure out his subject; for example, the 1963 woodcut of figures in a happening could as easily be symbolizing man's inhumanity to man, as could a 1965 lithography of figures piled surrealistically on a scaffold under the title "Palace."

An accomplished technician who delights in dense textures and, occasionally, brilliant colors, Mr. Landau has covered a great deal of esthetic ground in his life. Here and there, he reflects influences as diverse as Ben Shahn and Peter Max, but always at the center is the cultivated man addressing a like-minded audience. To get the most from his complex imagery, it is neccessary to believe in the perfectability of man.

No such faith is needed to appreciate the four solo shows at the City Museum, which is in the Ellarslie mansion. Selected by the museum's director, Ben Whitmire, and by Elizabeth Ruggles of the aforementioned Workshop association, the particapants are all in their 20's and 30's.

A former student of Paul Resika's, Regina Tracy shares with her teacher, and with artists such as Robert Dash, a tendency to summarize landscape in bold expressionistic sweeps of color. She is a ragged painter capable of such high points as the view of a sunlit meadow bordered by a reddish road and the dramatic portrait of a Mexican woman.

But Miss Tracy can sometimes drop clinkers of color, like the forms - rocks, presumably - in the view of a river with trees that are of too industrial looking a pink for nature. Also, her other figure studies tend to be drab and weakly drawn.

Dallas Piotroski shows canvases and silk-screen prints of flowers that are treated singly and in groups, pr arranged in compartments. Miss Piotroski obviously knows her subjects, but it is only in her twin paintings of giant sunflowers that she makes a strong esthetic statement. Done on tall, thin canvases, these well-painted golden flowers make very handsome emblems indeed.

A photographer since 1972, David Doonan says in a written statement that his subjects are "the isolation of the individual, fear of death and the hope of life after death." His black-and-white images, though consist of buildings, landscapes and dead animals.

The slightly crude print quality serves to heighten the impact of the corpses, especially that of a deer lying disemboweled on a road. Possibily, Mr. Doonan is testing his own capacity for feeling.

Except for the study of a bird on its back in the grass, a dandelion growing along the side, Mr. Doonan's pictures lack compassion in a manner that recalls the paintings of Andrew Wyeth.

Dominating the gathering is the display by Steven Zorochin, a sculptor obsessed by firemen. Mr Zorochin's figures - booted, helmeted and slickered - come in various sizes and are cast in either bronze, fiberglass or plaster.

Some, like the bearded, saintly looking "Old Timer" are portraits; others are full-lenght figures standing, kneeling or just helping one another along.

All the sculptures register in their stances the emotions attendant on this arduous vocation and, if a photograph of the sculptor at work is a reliable guide, many of the faces are self-portraits (Mr. Zorochin himself is a volunteer fire-fighter).

To make matters even more fascinating, the firemen are interspersed with small male nudes. The show also includes a crucifix and a pair of painted plaster work shoes (life size, but lacking soles and laces).

If Mr. Zorochin were part of the New York City scene, he might by now have intensified the fetishistic side of his art, for better or worse. Already, there is, in the head of a young black apprentice wearing goggles, an uneasy affinity with Nancy Grossman's male images costumed in black leather. But the way things are going now, this former student of Joe Brown, the monumental sculptor, expresses his passion in the most prosaic, academic terms.

Perhaps it is the implications of kinkiness lurking behind the artist's dedication and sincerity that make his work so memorable.