Finger painting refined

Donia Lilly

Donia Lilly says her works, like “Eye of the Storm,” can’t be explained or contained by human words, yet here we are.

Donia Lilly says her works, like “Eye of the Storm,” can’t be explained or contained by human words, yet here we are.

Photo By David Robert

Maybe you’ve seen a semblance of it in a formation of clouds at sunset or in a pool of water reflecting the sands of its floor. These are earthly comparisons, but Donia Lilly’s canvas is not intended as a reproduction of these realities. You may have seen these images in a dream, and perhaps Lilly’s art reminds you of how that dream made you feel.

Lilly’s recent show, Aesthetic Evocations, displays her pastel pieces of dreamy colors and ambiguous forms.

"[My pieces are] evocations of emotions, feelings, states of being so subtle they can have no linguistic labels or description,” Lilly says. “That is why they were created as paintings. Words and human explanations cannot contain them.”

Eighteen of Lilly’s pieces adorn the walls of Zimmerman Gallery, and all have been created using soft pastels. They are abstract, and each piece draws all kinds of attention to itself, thanks to Lilly’s successful use of color and movement.

Lilly started creating the pieces three to four years ago while working on a series from memory. Because Lilly traveled a lot, she was forced to construct images from remembrance.

“To warm up, I would just start making marks on the paper,” Lilly says. “The paintings were coming into their own, and it was kind of funny because the memory series stopped, and I started working in this manner.”

The titles to her pieces, like “Consciousness,” “Cosmos,” “Immersion” and “In the Presence of Yellow,” justly describe the sensations elicited from viewing the art. “Blue-Violet I” wraps the viewer in its fluid lines and in the gentle yet erratic tapestry of lavender, violet, indigo, cerulean, azure and all the colors that fall in between. It’s soft, like clouds blanketing the sky, but it also has clearly defined markings, recalling lighting, gods, flying dragons, anything you might see in the clouds. You feel as if you’re in the piece, sensing the soft light and a subtle breeze.

“Fuchsia I” is the first pastel seen upon entering the gallery. Appearing aglow, it almost seems three-dimensional, with small cracks in the electric pinks and earthy reds to break up the vibrant colors. “Eye of the Storm” is a haunting piece that asserts chaotic sweeps of an unsettling array of colors. The sporadic yellow lines dart out for an almost dizzying effect, while a dark off-center “eye” warns off viewers, at the same time inviting them in.

Most of the pastel pieces seem tranquil, yet Lilly claims that people have many different takes on her works.

“One person will think that they’re creepy, and another will think that they are peaceful. But usually when I’m painting, I’m submerged into an atmosphere with a feeling of serenity and peace that I get from it.”

Lilly uses many media, including acrylics, oils and watercolors, but pastels are her true love.

“Using pastels is to draw and paint in the same instant; they are a ‘refined’ sort of finger painting. The activity of drawing—witnessing the textures and forms emerge from beneath my fingers is spontaneous choreography—is much like dancing.”

Her charcoal drawings share the dreamlike quality of her pastel pieces and are available for sale online. The curves and shadowing of some of her human figure drawings are created with Lilly’s characteristic sensual shapes—dark and mysterious.

Lilly’s work has displayed in numerous group and solo shows throughout California, Oregon, Illinois and Missouri and hangs in collections across the United States, Europe and South America. She moved from Monterey, Calif., to Reno a month ago to join her younger and older brothers and is working for VSA arts of Nevada as a teacher. She loves working with kids as it gives her the time and flexibility to paint.

Lilly’s “finger paintings” are mature and thought provoking; they don’t speak to her audience but stimulate their emotions. Aesthetic Evocations is a mesmerizing sensory experience.