For Toronto based artist Brian Donnelly, featured here, painting is a risky business. At first beautifully rendered in oil, he then sprays his subjects with turpentine and hand sanitizer until their faces are distorted beyond recognition, to a more limited expression. Donnelly’s work is all about embracing limitations: “I ask a lot of questions about art and how we define it,” he says. “How far away from the original state can we go before we stop calling something art? In the process, I end up drawing a parallel between the fragile nature of artwork and the human condition.”
In deteriorating his work, Donelly contemplates what it means to have something taken away, and yet still be emotional and provocative. His latest series, “Nothing Lasts Forever”, debuting at Stephanie Chefas Projects in Portland on May 6th, explores this meaning of “loss”. His new paintings feature unrecognizable faces, where the medium drips off of the canvas like rainbow-colored waterfalls, making the subjects appear almost tearful or mournful as they experience the loss of their identities.
“I approach portraiture as a mark of our decidedly ephemeral nature as living beings,” Donelly says. “In the tradition of portraiture the sitter makes contact with the eternal, their likeness carried across generations. My portraits contradict that tradition. Like memories, these paintings are unreliable: portraits of their own loss rather than permanent effigies. I think of this work less as portraiture, and more as a paradoxical document of absence in which lasting forever is defined by being reduced to nothing.”