At the heart of each compact sculpture is a form reminiscent of branches only visible in winter -- softly contoured wood scraps or crescent shape furniture pieces, almost braided with other oddly complementary and beautiful trash: a pink ball, a chevron of wavy fiberglass roofing, curling copper tubing, a purple hoop, a chair leg.
“A lot of time in my abstract work, I set up rules about how light falls, or the relationship between forms,” Donley says. “In this work, I decided the only perimeter was scale – scale and verticality. I wanted them to be intimate and still maintain a sense of twisting, rhythmic flow within the pieces.”
Although Donley is trained as a painter, he ventured into sculpture after a one-year hiatus from art about 10 years ago to record an album with the band Jakeleg, for which he played bass and wrote songs. After that sabbatical, returning to canvas felt strange.
“I was actually a little frightened,” he says. It was jarring to move from performance to paint. “Flat, two-dimensional painting didn’t make sense to me.
“It was a little minor terror, actually, sort of ‘Oh my god, I don’t feel like I can paint anymore.’”
There was something more comfortable about working with big pieces that had to be wrestled into place. “Physically interacting with the forms, cutting things out, using tools – that really changed everything.”
The results were abstract sculptures with an industrial feel, sometimes colorful, full of energy and occasionally clamoring for attention. By contrast, the new sculptures are whispered conversations. In between, he produced a series of paintings, his Floating or Falling series, highly influenced by his foray into sculpture. The acrylics on canvas are like luminous chalk drawings of abstract three-dimensional objects caught in an uncertain state.
The Zephyr show this month features another artist who makes creative use of found objects. The upstairs gallery features the work of Joel Pinkerton. (More about him in a day or two.) In fact, found objects seem to be an expanding vocabulary in Louisville, with more people making memorable pieces from castoffs. Over at Gallerie Hertz, 1253 S. Preston St., Brad Devlin has a remarkable found-objects show. And Caroline Waite’s assemblages of small objects at Carr + Waite Studios, 221 S. Hancock St., are always magical and never sentimental.
It’s the ultimate recycling, turning the city’s scheduled junk pickup days into a movable Christmas for this group of artists.
“Junk pickup is one of my favorite times of the year,” Donley says. He scours Germantown and the original Highlands with his dogs, looking for art-in-embryo disguised as a smashed coffee table.
That was the genesis of the current Zephyr show. “It started with broken furniture,” he says. Then he found a smashed guitar. “I took it apart even further, and I thought, I’m going to work with that.” Although only a few of the sculptures feature pieces from the guitar, all of the sculptures share something of the guitar’s rounded aesthetic. Seeing the guitar brought to mind the many ways Pablo Picasso deconstructed the guitar. “I wasn’t thinking about creating a musical instrument. It’s more as a self-reference, more a self-portrait.”
Once Donley gets his newfound trash to his studio, he doesn’t plan, but instead sees how the objects fit together.
“I might pull out one piece and lay it next to something else, and they kind of speak to each other. I try to bring together two, three key elements that seem to be in some sort of visual relationship. I have to respond to it.”
In past sculptures, he’s painted on the pieces or otherwise embellished them. For this show, he let them be.
“With this body of work, it’s pure and simple,” he says. “I wanted to sort of celebrate the objects. I wanted to preserve the relationship between me and the objects.”
The exhibit continues through March 26. Gallery hour 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. (502) 585-5646.
Photo: Joey Harrison