Friday, February 11, 2011

Gallery Talk: Tim McDonald

Bobbitt Visual Arts Center has played host to many talented individuals over the years. On January 27, one such individual opened up about his art and his process. Tim McDonald, Assistant Professor of Art at Framingham State University, presented his lecture to a receptive audience comprised of Albion students, faculty and guests. An exhibition of his work entitled "Ritual Elements" can be visited in the Munro Gallery until February 19.

On January 27, 2011 artist Tim McDonald gave a talk about his current work on display in the Munro Gallery.
McDonald's set of drawings on display are not necessarily drawings in the traditional sense of the word. In the initial stages of each piece, McDonald has no set expectations of what each drawing will end up like. Instead, he is more interesting "in the process of the making" and would rather "let nature make the work, after setting up the situation to be made." McDonald counts John Cage as one among many inspirations, believing Cage is a master of creating ego-less art. Like Cage, McDonald is interested in his art being "a documentation of an event, more than a picture of something." An excerpt from McDonald's artist statement better explains this idea:
I see the moment of making a mark as the ground of imagination (located in the body) and understand perception to be a natural system; an ecology of mind in which the perceiver is not separate from that which is perceived. The initiation of a mark is a primary point of contact, of clarity, that is before language, before thought - an original root experience of imagination, a manifestation of our animal mind operating along a wild edge.
McDonald is also influenced by Zen and Buddhist traditions that emphasize nature; by using such elements as beeswax, red clay, and walnut ink in creating his art, McDonald wishes to link his art to the natural world. He often leaves his paper and artwork outside, exposing them to the natural elements. Because of this process, a paw print was once imprinted onto one of his pieces by an unknown creature - something McDonald embraced and saw as an asset to the work as a whole. McDonald is very interested in "letting nature have a say" by restoring an "equal conversation" between man and his world.

"Thin Ice 2" 2010. Walnut ink, sumi ink, beeswax on paper.
Reading is an essential aspect to art-making, and McDonald names poetry as a source of inspiration - Gary Snyder, the Beat Generation poet, "had a language for what I was thinking and feeling." Also, the title of one of McDonald's pieces on display borrows from an Emily Dickinson poem, as seen below:

"The bottom ... is lined with stones" 2010. Pastel, charcoal, burning on paper.
The "see what happens" approach McDonald takes is refreshing. If, after sanding his paper down (one of McDonald's common techniques) a hole is torn - it is okay, it "is part of what happens, and it doesn't bother me." McDonald has been known to burn his paper, soak it in water and freeze it, and disrupt powder graphite by sprinkling it with raindrops. The nature of his materials "decide what the work is going to be." By working without a final image in mind, McDonald is free to bring out and birth an image  merely from process alone. McDonald believes in the "integrity of each individual mark" and sees his final products as the result of a "history of choices, a history of questions." At the end of the day, we must "let objects be themselves."

"Fragile" 2010. Ink, charcoal, burning on paper.

"Liminal (for Meredith Monk)" 2010. Charcoal, clay, burning on paper.

"A wild edge" 2010. Graphite, charcoal, burning on paper.

As for what advice McDonald has for aspiring artists, his words are simple yet profound. "Just work. Don't mix up motivation and inspiration," McDonald said. "Remember that spare time is what you have when you're not making art; spare time is what you use when you go to work or go to the grocery store, your real life is art."

Artist Tim McDonald (R) discusses his work with Albion student Kevin Kissinger.


  1. Great article about a fascinating show!

  2. Thank you! It was definitely a great lecture and it's an amazing show, Mr. McDonald is very talented.