Various Small Fires presents a solo exhibition of new paintings and works on paper by Brooklyn-based artist Madeline Donahue. ART HOUSE expands on the artist’s practice that centers on her experiences of pregnancy, birth, motherhood and owning a postpartum body.
Donahue utilizes personal experience to portray the wide-ranging facets of motherhood. She draws from contrasting moments of joy, absurdity, intimacy, and anxiety to illustrate the complex relationship between mother and child. Through her oil paintings and colored pencil drawings on paper, Donahue employs humor to express universal physical and emotional experiences that accompany caring for another human.
In ART HOUSE, Donahue focuses on the experiences of an artist making art while raising children. I miss you when I work, I miss work when I’m with you (2023) encapsulates the difficult emotional contradiction that comes from being a working parent; specifically a working artist. Eight arms sprout from the mother, referencing Louise Bourgeois’ Maman figures and representing the different ways a mother splits herself to work and care for her children. Upstairs Downstairs (2023) depicts Donahue’s household dynamic in which her professional practice occurs under the same roof as her children’s playtime, an increasingly common circumstance of the pandemic era. Still lifes capture Donahue’s painting palette to serve as a symbol of her livelihood but they can also be interpreted as depicting the idle time in between painting sessions.
The works on view highlight the invisible labor of parenting, especially as it relates to women. Though light hearted in approach, Donahue’s exhibition speaks to sacrifices made for the ultimate joys of motherhood. Feelings of ecstasy and strain exist in tandem to maintain a deeply relatable expression of intimacy.
Madeline Donahue (b. 1983, Houston, Texas, lives and works in Brooklyn, New York) holds a BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston and an MFA from Brooklyn College, New York. Donahue has presented solo exhibitions at Hesse Flatow, New York; Nina Johnson Gallery, Miami; Praise Shadows Gallery, Boston; and Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York. Donahue’s work has been reviewed in The Cut, The Guardian, Hyperallergic, and Elephant Magazine. Her work is in the collections of The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.