"Untitled, 2002-03" by Jerry Donato (Image courtesy Joan Gaustad)
The work of the late artist and Virginia Commonwealth University professor Jerry Donato is on exhibit at the Reynolds Gallery from April 21-May 26. The style of some 20 works varies between Donato’s more playful figurative work — featuring recurring characters such as Mr. Man and Moonface — and experimental, but no less complicated, abstracts. The exhibit is called, “Donato Fresh,” and Donato’s muse, artist Joan Gaustad, explains why.
“When art students are talking about work, they’ll say, ‘It’s fresh,’ and, anybody who knew Jerry would agree, he could be fresh, too.”
In his catalog essay about the later works, Donato’s longtime friend and art collector Paul Monroe describes them as experiments in expression. Donato applied house paint on hollow-core doors and often cut holes in them to reveal the interior that could become yet another surface. Monroe writes that these are “confident, challenging paintings that confound a simple reading and thus engage our imaginations. This is why they still feel fresh and new almost 25 years later.”
The proceeds from “Donato Fresh” will strengthen an annual Donato Prize for VCU undergrads in the painting and sculpture departments. “And I want to send these beautiful Donatos into the world,” Gaustad says. These include large and small paintings, monotypes and works on paper.
Gaustad and Donato set up housekeeping and dual studios on West Main Street in 1977 when that part of The Fan was dicey. Donato made the downstairs his lair, and Gaustad took the upstairs, where the open floor space allowed her to walk back and see the work at a distance, then get closer — in a creator’s waltz.
When interviewed for their mutual Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts recognition in 2007, Donato remarked about the artist’s constant motivation, “It’s curiosity. You’re finding out where it’s going.”