Friday 24 January 2020

What lies beneath: Future Self by Robert Donald

Future Self by Robert Donald

Oil on canvas Courtesy of Robert Donald

Future Self by Robert Donald
Future Self by Robert Donald

Niall MacMonagle

Given golf clubs by his grandfather, aged 12, Robert Donald dreamt of being Seve Ballesteros. His mother's box of paints got him painting Mayo landscapes at 13. But one headmaster told his parents that their son would end up a bin man. He switched schools but his dyslexia meant "I was called stupid every day, it meant I failed at school". Donald did go on to play golf for Ireland's Under 21 and in 1990, aged 20, on a sports scholarship to the University of Arizona he left "claustrophobic Ireland" having done a post Leaving Cert foundation course at Mountjoy Square.

His degree course in the US featured golf and sculpture, photography, film, performance, painting and though "painting was not a perfect fit I was most intrigued by painting's infinite potential. My eyes were wide open at college". Taught by Robert Colescott, "Colescott would get us to look at the studio's paint-spotted floor, find an image, any image, and take it from there. In my work there was always an abstract inclination but there are always figurative strands."

After Arizona, depression hit, and Donald spent three months in bed. Next step, September 1997, California "for life". In San Francisco "a haven for creativity" his life, crowded with incident, included work as a cinematographer, teaching, a marriage, a stepdaughter, a son but in the end "my life in SF, my marriage - it was as if I were playing only three keys on a grand piano". A break-up, a new relationship, a shouting match, a self-inflicted wound, the cops were called, he was handcuffed and spent three days in prison, never charged with anything. Donald also ran an art studio housing 73 artists, a community gallery but ended up bankrupt and there was an "expulsion from Eden. Reluctantly, I left." Back in Dublin now, Donald likes to work into the night when the world's asleep.

This painting, Future Self, is "the last painting I made before I left SF".

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"It opened a window. It let the air in. It's abstract, cubist but I'm in it!" And there, in his studio, he points out: "me, wearing a hat, eyes, ear, mouth, shoulders". He uses a palette knife for "smearing and scraping" and "my mental process and intuition are hugely important. I believe there is nothing correct, my paintings are extremely open, I like to use the ugliest colour to break the painting and abandon learnt behaviour".

With nine solo shows to date, this self-proclaimed optimist's future self is assured. Instagram: george_gordon_rd

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