Friday, May 18, 2007

Avian Archetypes

Wood Sculptures by Donna Dodson
Reviewed by Barry Maloney | Age: 41 | Dedham, MA | Dissolver Magazine, Volume 16
The imagery of artist Donna Dodson brings to her viewers a multitude of impressions; most notably novelty, humor, and playfulness, yet also grace, power, and emotional stability. Generally spare in construction, her works are refined to their most basic structure, yet they run the gamut of stylistic qualities, reminiscent sometimes of Eskimo or Native American art, other times of Egyptian standing figures, still other times of American folk carvings, toy like imagery, or religious statuary. Adventurous, thoughtful, and playful, this series by Donna Dodson -- produced between 2002 and 2005 -- seems to create an iconography for a contemporary mythology of female, bird-headed, and often human-bodied sculptural forms. The figures, which stand between 15 to 31 inches in height, are hand-carved out of tree trunks and hand-painted by the artist. Below, we give our impression of this collection of work.

~ Caribbean Queen, (2004) A humorous, high-breasted, gull-in-a-gown with just a splash of cherry red on shoulder. Egyptian in feel, she is reminiscent of their god Thoth gone mellow.

~ My favorite, Dancing Crane (2004) is a graceful abstract whose bulb-like, upperward directed head is focused on the sky. A gowned female figure, with lovely wood patterning, is carved and composed with sophistication; though if she is dancing, it is with her spirit, not her bodily form.

~ Bold and imposing, Empress Penguin (2005) is a solid-bodied cartoon in 3-D; spare in conception, yet full-bodied in stature and personality. Again, the artist chooses to work in the female gown form. A cone-like yellow beak plays against the ebony wing sleeving, with many happy accidents in a well-chosen wood grain.

~ Goose Goddess (2002) is a duck-decoy gone mad, graphically conceived and boldly executed with minimal -- yet vibrant -- color.

~ Green Falcon (2003) looks upward and off to the horizon, her winglike arms hanging loosely at her side, knobby human knees come from beneath her gownbody, with small shoes standing at attention. We feel respect for this creature, a natural mother-goddess form reminiscent of Alaskan Eskimo woodcarving. Her eyes seem to look not only into the distance, but inward also, contemplating her future or perhaps the good of her kind.

~ Mother Hen (2005) is one of my favorites of this series, with the artist obviously delighting in the orange headed crest of her subject, the chess-piece like construction of this ornamental chicken is a pleasure to the viewer. Blonde wood accents the playful contrast of green against yellow beak.

~ Pregnant Owl (2003) is aloof and imposing. This sculpture of a standing female owl is incredibly stable, minimally colored in black and cobalt blue against blonde wood grain, the just visible bump on the belly lets us know that this creature is with child. This artwork's subject is herself conceptually containing another life form. Can we not imagine a small wooden baby owl carved out within her?

~ Seagull Cinderella (2002) is less well-conceived than others of the series, but plays more subtly with color and grain.

~ Ugly Duckling (2005), a schoolgirl-looking figure with a bold duckling beak, small breasts, and short frock with duck feet in a typically Egyptian pose -- nonetheless, the piece is more folk in conception, in the best sense.

On this particular theme of work, Donna Dodson has said: "In the animal kingdom, it would be the male birds that have the brightest and most colorful plumage who are able to attract a female mate; whereas in the human world, it would be the females who are the most beautiful and have the most enhanced features that attract the opposite sex. It's for this reason that I enjoy reversing these ideas in this series of bird-headed goddess figures. One of my collectors bought three of my pieces -- one for each of his daughters -- as a wedding present. He came to believe they were fertility figures because each of his daughters became pregnant soon after receiving this gift."

Donna Dodson will be exhibiting a small selection of her work in the South of Washington Street Art Walk (SoWa Art Walk) on Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20, 2007 from 11:00am to 6:00pm at 460 Harrison Ave in the South End neighborhood of Boston. For more information on this event, visit

Photo Credit on Green Falcon, Pregnant Owl and Seagull Cinderella: Cliff Pfeiffer
Photo Credit on Caribbean Queen, Dancing Crane, Goose Goddess: Jeff Baird
Photo Credit on Empress Penguin and Mother hen: Bruno Giust
Photo Credit on Ugly Duckling: James Zimmerman