New York

Robert Donley

Monique Knowlton Gallery

Chicago is famous for having cultivated a funky, figurative kind of painting, naively expressionist in style, weird, fantastic or vulgar in subject, and obsessive—filling the canvas completely—in presentation. The aim is to make the most outrageous vision seem uncomfortably real by assaulting the viewer on multiple associative-psychological fronts.

Such musings are immediately brought to mind by the first New York show of recent paintings and drawings by ROBERT DONLEY, a Chicago-based artist. Donley treats the subject of 20th-century warfare in a series of synthetic landscapes. Somewhere in Russia, 1980, an oil painting measuring 48 by 60 inches, is representative of them. In its composition, it recalls an army map with a basic topographical description of prominent features like rivers, mountains and transportation lines. In a naively illustrative style, all the possible encounters that might occur between and among men and machines in conventional modern warfare, are indicated, as is the technological support system of factories and transports. The opposing armies and their horses, tanks, weapons of all sorts and fantastic human-machine symbols are displayed with obsessive, all over pattern that echoes the basic shape of the landscape but with enough space around each figure to reveal a white ground. From a distant view, the paintings’ bold rhythms of color and line contrast, demonstrating the beauty of war concept glorified by the Futurists. Close-up,the painting looks like many of the war games that we played as children with toy armies. This triggers a heavily-mined mind trip, regarding our notions of war. Then, there’s art’s relationship to war to think about ranging from early Italian Renaissance paintings with white grounds to comics. Donley succeeds at making us play along in his war games, and at eliciting our active responses.

Ronny Cohen