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.
Inspired by a lifelong collaboration with my junko partner, Nick, a Teamster-artist-musician—I believed creativity was best expressed as lived experience. We called our self-styled project “Artlife.” Deeply immersed in the late 1970’s NYC music scene, energized by a multidimensional explosion of subculture and style, the DIY ethic was epitomized in punk’s seminal band the Ramones. Unwashed, untrained, the punk eruption incited fans to create their own music, art, clothing, hair and literature. Drawing from every available resource, local, global, and punk was rude, raw and anarchistic--- the antithesis of the dominant corporate music industry and the blue-chip “art world” order of the day.
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 useable 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. I aimed to reclaim whatever survived, because everything (and everyone) deserves a second chance.
That Christmas Nick bought me a set of art supplies---acrylic paints, watercolors, oil crayons, and brushes. For their birthdays, friends began requesting paintings. I continued to collect discarded wood on the street, celebrating the cracks and crooked dimensions, the diversity of size, a spirituality of imperfection. I’ll never sketch out a plan, I start from wherever I am, working with whatever I’ve got that day, organically, intuitively. There’s no right or wrong, no good or bad here, and only when it’s done can I grasp my intention—what it means, what to call it. The sea, garden, faith, regeneration, joy, hope, light, the body, and the power of community are reoccurring themes.
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, “Art on Neptune” is a gathering place for friends to mess around and have fun, open to the street like the 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.
*Special love and thanks to Nick, Allan Nafte, James Graham and Barbarie Rothstein.