Artist Cheryl Donegan brings street culture and a DIY ethos to the Aspen Art Museum with GRLZ + VEILS, the first exhibit in a U.S. museum primarily devoted to her paintings. The exhibit—using painting and fashion as a lens to explore beauty, technology and expression of the self—features more than 40 abstract paintings plus a selection of garments from a new fashion line commissioned by the AAM.
Referencing Jasper Johns’s aesthetic—“Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”—Donegan sees the work as a way to layer references and tell a new story. “What I am interested in is clothing and the relationship of fabric to painting, printing to painting, color and pattern to painting, and the relationship of the body to painting,” she says. “This is a celebration and investigation of pattern and print.”
As the AAM’s 2017-18 Gabriela and Ramiro Garza Distinguished Artist in Residence, Donegan is best known for performance videos where she uses her body as a metaphor to explore issues relating to sex, gender and art-making. Yet painting has remained a touchstone throughout. Works on display at the AAM’s exhibition this summer include the series “Crack, Gingham on Jute” and “Resist Paintings,” all of which explore the relationship between fabric, painting and various processes such as layering, depth, texture and batik dying.
The title GRLZ + VEILS invokes “girls,” but can also be pronounced “grills,” referring to the graffiti tags scratched into air-conditioner units Donegan spotted all over New York, snapped with her iPhone, then distorted into patterns. “I found them to be stunning, shiny abstractions that evoke frottage and mark-making,” she says. “They look beautiful translated onto fabric and offer a sense of touch and unexpected glamour.”
Using print-on-demand technology, Donegan transformed the designs into clothing—a slip dress and T-shirt—in a range of sizes, then altered some by hand to create unique pieces. “I like to play with authenticity,” she says. “I much prefer play over branding.”
Donegan further blurs the line between artist and viewer, maker and consumer, by offering her standard garments for sale on the Print All Over Me website, which the buyer can then alter and make it their own. “This is refashioning the ready-made,” Donegan says. “By incorporating it into the studio, the ready-made is not divorced from the handmade.” Through Dec. 16, Aspen Art Museum, aspenartmuseum.org