Artist Statement by Donna Gaines
I was an art school dropout. Although I had apprenticed with local artists as a teen, had work exhibited as part of a youth show at the Lever House in Manhattan, and was praised by my teachers for a vibrant color sense and freedom of expression, by age nineteen painting left me feeling increasingly dark, alienated and adrift. I eventually located a stronger voice and greater passion in writing. Formal training in sociology and social work offered much needed discipline, and direction. A lengthy career in journalism provided connection and community. By 1970 I stopped painting, I never thought about it again.
Lost Art: In Fall 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated Long Island including my barrier island City of Long Beach. During long, cold, dark and dirty months of storm recovery, the garage was the only usable space. There, in my grungy command post, desperate to maintain my sanity (and my sobriety), I started painting again. “Civitas Ad Mare” [City by the Sea], my first painting was an ode to my precious community—that’s on our official seal. A plywood shelf I grabbed off the garage wall in a panic became my first canvas---a hapless barricade against the angry black waters of Sandy. Dried, sanitized, I threw randomly found materials at it---house paint, candle wax, spray paint, nail polish, mascara, sand, dirt, and acrylics, anything salvaged from the storm. I used q-tips, fingers, razor blades, knives, glue, industrial paintbrushes, working in blues, greens, and darker tones under a grim but hopeful sun, it expressed the deep love, sorrow and connection I felt to our battered community-in-exile, and the underlying legacy of cultural, familial and personal family trauma I carried--and my own belief in healing and resillience I aimed to reclaim in whatever survived, because everything (and everyone) deserves a second chance--it's never too late to catch another wave.
Inspired by the sea, my garden, faith, regeneration, joy, hope, light, the body, and the power of community, these emerged as reoccurring themes in my paintings. In recent years my work has been displayed as part of group shows in the lobby of our City Hall. In 2019 Artists in Partnership and the Long Beach Arts Council granted me a “Women in the Arts” award for my creative contributions to my community. Today my studio is a garage, open to the street, a tribute to the beloved garage bands of yore. The Ramones believed rock & roll belonged to everyone. Well, so does art, and poetry, spirituality, dance, the ocean and everything wonderful and true under the sun.
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Photos by James Graham and Allan Nafte