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Michael Donnor is part photographer and part sorcerer. By mixing his imaginings of our place in the universe with venerable techniques, he creates unique and stunning imagery. In “Paper Truths”, his solo show at Panopticon Gallery in Boston’s Kenmore Square, Donnor presents a full body of work from his latest portfolio, “Notes on a Paper Universe”. There is also a selection of his earlier work from “Silent Moan”, a very different series that nonetheless shares Donnor’s photographic methods and the undercore of his ceaseless questioning (discussed in my blog: http://elinspringphotography.com/blog/21st-century-monochrome/).
I think “Notes on a Paper Universe” represents a quantum leap in Donnor’s repertoire, striking a delicate balance between the abstract, deep questioning of existence and a visceral, humanistic approach to photographic artistry. It is Donnor’s imaginative integration of these contrasting psychological and physical elements that gives rise to his highly compelling imagery.
Atop celestial images symbolizing these profound existential questions, Donnor layers a playful naiveté with such components as body parts, chalk drawings, birds or toys, which serve to frame his perceptions in human terms. Balancing the expansive scale of the universe with relatively large heads, hands or even stones is a knowing distortion that helps us make peace with such mind-blowing concepts.
Donnor’s clever dichotomy of scale is paralleled by other contrasts in his photographs. For example, he uses Black & White film, accentuating bright stars against the night sky or white chalk on blacktop. The perfection of ethereal skies is tallied against Donnor’s hand-manipulated negatives and gelatin silver prints. The conceptual and speculative are thus internalized through the textural representations and physicality of Donnor’s encaustic (wax-finished), sensual paper prints.
Most importantly, Donnor’s labor-intensive techniques align with his underlying message: we are what we perceive ourselves to be. We create our vision of the universe, which takes some hard work, or at least some hard questioning. This is such a joyous approach to pretty overwhelming questions that Donnor wins our hearts and minds. He is proclaiming that, for all our sophistication, we still struggle to understand the mysteries of the universe and our existence (and even our own visual system). To embrace these ambiguities with an old soul and a young heart, with erudite queries and unabashed wonder, is a genuine gift. To apply his unique medley of technical skills to this nuanced perception of the human predicament is Michael Donnor’s masterful alchemy.
Michael Donnor’s solo show, “Paper Truths”, will be exhibited at Panopticon Gallery through September 9, 2014. Also at Panopticon is the group show, “Abstract (Photo) Expressionists”, which I’ll review next. For more information about these exhibits, go to: http://www.panopticongallery.com/exhibitions/
Feature image: “My Paper Universe, 2013” from the series Notes on a Paper Universe, gelatin silver print by Michael Donnor (courtesy of the artist and Panopticon Gallery, Boston)