Concord and Discord: Examining Ancient Stories

January 2nd, 2022  |  Published in *, December 2021

“Concord and Discord: Examining Ancient Stories” is a two person show of the work of area artists, Mary Anne Donovan and Cynthia Kukla. In many ways, though, it is a single show as well. Themes, palettes, strategies, motifs and formal approaches bounce back and forth between the work of both artists. Each artist invites the viewer into the world of the other.

Arcadia II: xviii
Watercolor, gouache and sumi ink on Arches paper, 15 x 20″

Classical references to goddesses and architectural forms anchor the work. The temple and the arch locate the figure in time and place. The icon format presents the goddess/female forms to the viewer, saying, “have reverence.” The palettes in paint and watercolor are warm, rich and evocative. They enhance the layering in the images to evoke time in dreams and history. Both artists are strongly and noticeably influenced by travels to the places they reference.

Images of both artists are not ones to simply look at. They are ones to enter into. A first response is not to identify what’s there, but rather to just be there. There will be plenty of time later to make sense of it.

Charioteer I: i
Watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and Swarovski crystals on Arches paper, 22 x 30″

Contemporary art, in my experience, does not so often concern itself in a direct way with spiritual concerns. Both Donovan and Kukla make this a core element of their work. In the latter part of the 20th century, feminism brought women artists a new awareness of the goddess and of the spiritual nature of women. I see welcome reverberations of these themes in the work of these two artists. What’s in a work of art resonates with or unearths those same things in an attentive viewer. Both artists are calling out the spirituality in us.

Mary Anne Donovan constructs many of her images so that the figurative form pulls other ideas and symbols into itself as in the “Demeter” pieces, not telling the story directly but leaving that to the viewer. In “Persona”, another appealing element of the work is the energy and rhythm of the brushwork. It dances.

Curiously, just before I saw this show, I happened to view the Kara Walker exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

It was a pleasant surprise to be able to connect Donovan’s goddess to Walker’s powerful woman, both pierced by a window to a world beyond. Donovan’s goddesses, like Walker’s, are storytellers.

Cynthia Kukla’s work offers the viewer landscapes populated with classical references and temple forms. These images float in time and history, where history and place are not fixed but fluid. Kukla’s palette is expansive, bright though sometimes subdued, assertive though sometimes quietly. Together these elements suggest a past trying to persist in its narratives. One other way it occurred to me to think of these works is as maps in space and time. This is what I see in images like ‘Arcadia II: xviii,” “Charioteer I: I” and “Worlds Becoming I: i.”

Worlds Becoming I:i
Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48″

See this show. Meet these gods and goddesses. Search for the stories told in cultural and spiritual symbols. Enjoy the mystery.

“Concord and Discord: Examining Ancient Stories” runs through January 15, 2022 at the Annex Gallery, 1310 Pendleton St. Cincinnati OH 45202. Open Wed.-Sat. 12-5 PM.

–Gary Gaffney

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