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Visiting art professor exhibits work in San Francisco gallery

Those who are not necessarily interested in or knowledgeable about art may find the realm of the abstract a little off putting at times, simply finding it difficult to understand or relate to.

However, visiting Mills College professor and Bay Area artist Robin McDonnell creates abstract works that are at once captivating and complex – as well as beautiful – even to the most untrained eye.

In her latest showing at the Brian Gross Fine Art Gallery in San Francisco, titled “Affect/Effect,” McDonnell showcases her ability to create movement and intensity through her use of brushstrokes and color.

“The energetic, sometimes turbulent, compositions are evocative of dynamic forces of nature,” said the gallery’s Web site.
While some of McDonnell’s large oil paintings are composed of earthy hues in reds, oranges, greens and yellows,  juxtaposed next to those are others consisting of predominately cool blue tones.

Despite the fact that McDonnell’s work is largely conceptual, the viewer gains an understanding that she is trying to convey a sense of motion in nature through the collection. Each painting builds off of the previous, and one can see the advance of color and movement as the series progresses through each individual piece.

“I’m interested in the fact that as I depict nature, it’s through the prism of my own understanding of it,” McDonnell said of her work. “It ties in very strongly with how we are planetarily affecting nature right now. There’s a sense of affect-effect. You do one movement and what is the effect of that movement? That becomes sort of what it is in the kind of larger environmental idea.”

McDonnell, who has only been painting since she was in her early 30s, has already put together two other exhibitions with this particular gallery. While attending UC Santa Cruz as an undergraduate art student, she worked mainly in video and sculpture. A true jack of all trades, McDonnell also has an extensive background in drawing, building and design work.

She said she was drawn to painting mainly because of the unique ability to express certain emotions that can’t always be expressed through other mediums.

“[Painting] is just very compelling and I just became very intrigued by it,” McDonnell said. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do.”
Although McDonnell spends most of her time working in her Oakland studio, she enjoys the time she spends teaching classes, and has been a visiting professor at Mills since 1999.

“I love teaching,” she said. “It gets me out of the studio. And I find that the teaching becomes a way of service, of helping people start to achieve some of their own goals.”

Meryl Olah a student in McDonnell’s beginning painting class enjoy her presence as well.

“Robin makes me excited to paint,” said Olah, a junior who is taking one of McDonnell’s classes for the first time. Although Olah has not had an opportunity to view any of McDonnell’s art, she expressed her excitement. “I’m very curious to see it. I can’t wait!” she said.