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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

Nature in motion Nature in motion (April 02, 2004)

Abstract urban views are subject of Performing Arts Center exhibition

By Katie Vaughn

Many artists travel far from their studios to capture their experiences with nature in paint. Lenore McDonald prefers a different approach. She depicts the nature that exists in urban settings, the grass and trees visible between buildings and through windows.

McDonald's "Emerging Landscapes" series is now on display at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts. The 21 oil paintings are a visually diverse group of abstracted landscapes.

The artist grew up in Detroit and taught art there as well as in Chicago and New York. She later moved to California where she began taking art classes again. McDonald became involved in plein air landscape painting, an artistic technique and style in which painters observe nature directly in the outdoors and pay close attention to depicting their environments realistically.

Although McDonald had long been interested in landscape painting, she became frustrated with the plein air style. She felt too rushed to complete a painting of an environment before its lighting or other conditions changed. Thus she decided to focus on art based on nature but that could be abstracted and created indoors and over longer periods of time. She retired from teaching and bought space in a 40-year-old studio in Oakland.

"It's the funkiest place I've ever been to," she said. "It's stuck in the '60s."

McDonald's studio is not the only aspect of her work influenced by the time period. Abstract expressionists and colorfield painters of the 1950s and 1960s made a huge impact on the style of art she creates. They concentrated on brush movement and the placement of color, as opposed to rendering subjects as realistically as possible, to create meaning.

McDonald was drawn to these movements because even though their works are abstract, she could find landscapes within them.

"It doesn't matter what you paint, but the way you do it," she said. "The landscapes emerge."

McDonald employed this technique in many of her paintings. Most do not explicitly depict landscapes, but suggest them within the colors and brushwork she uses.

"Into the Deep" offers a landscape image through its colors and lines. It consists of five vertical strips of rich turquoise, orange and yellow shades and a few thin black straight and curved lines. The strips of color are not perfectly straight and show evidence of her brushwork, alluding to natural instead of manmade environments.

"It's not overtly landscape," McDonald said of the painting. "It's more gestural."

The artist used a different technique in "Life Science," a dual surface painting. In the work, a large wood panel features a landscape scene with a blue sky, yellow clouds and reddish earth. Her brushstrokes are light and wispy. Attached on top of the panel is a smaller canvas depicting a blue background with abstract designs of yellow, red and purple.

McDonald created the two components of "Life Science" separately and then decided how to overlap them to create a new composition. She said attaching two paintings by stacking them reflects the geometry of the buildings and windows of the urban environments from which she views nature.

To make any of her variety of landscape paintings, McDonald first focuses on what colors she will include. It may be due to her artistic influences, but she is always drawn to bright, saturated colors.

"The colors should be appealing," she said. "I start by thinking of what colors I will use."

Most of her paintings take two to six months to complete. She considers some more successful than others -- some won't make it outside of her studio -- but said all are part of her development as an artist.

"Some go fast, some go slow and some don't make it," she said. "But those are part of the process."

McDonald is currently working on more landscapes and looking for galleries to exhibit her work. Since art and landscapes have been her life's work and passion, she has no plans to stop creating paintings.

"I would always do art," she said. "I think this is going to be the rest of my life."

"Emerging Landscapes" runs through April 26 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts at 500 Castro St. Visiting hours are from noon to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and one hour prior to a performance at the center.

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