From the Vault

I was going through some old pictures this week and came across a painting I did about 13 years ago. It’s nothing like the work I do today. Here is a little bit about it.



ABOVE: David McDonough, Spin, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches

BELOW: David McDonough, Spin (detail)

In my early twenties, I rediscovered a love of art that had laid dormant for years. Like many new artists, I started with painting, and although my first efforts where admittedly bad, over time, I grew better.

The above painting is the result of many years of struggle. By no means is it a masterpiece, but for me, it was the first painting that I finished, took a look at, and said: “yes, you are onto something here.”

Spin, was one of the last paintings I made. Shortly after, I changed course, started experimenting with new materials and subject matter, and began making work closer to what I make today.

Whether it’s refining my skills, style or message, making art will always be a challenge. It’s sometimes helpful to look at past projects to gauge where you came from, where you are, and where you want to go.

Tahitian Dreams

Artists are often searching for something. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for; other times, not so much. Paul Gauguin was a searcher who fell into the later category.


ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, When Will You Marry?, oil on canvas, 1892, 40 x 30 inches

Born and raised in Paris, Paul Gauguin longed to travel and escape the trappings of western life. Being poor often put a damper on travel plans, but after a successful auction of his paintings, he was able to leave Paris for Tahiti in 1891.

Unfortunately, his escape from Europe proved futile as Tahiti had previously been colonized by the British, and in the process, many of the islands indigenous people had been killed by the diseases they brought with them. Owing to this, French and European culture had taken over, and Gauguin’s expectations of Tahiti were at odds with his actual experiences there.

After struggling to make ends meet in the capitol (Papeete), he eventually settled in a bamboo hut just outside the city, and began work on what many consider to be his finest paintings. It was during this time that he painted “When Will You Marry?” which consists of one women wearing traditional garb, and another dressed like a missionary. This contrast serves to highlight the changes evident in Tahiti at the time, and Gauguin’s attempts to reconcile them.

Gauguin returned to France in 1893, but continued to paint Tahitian subjects with the belief they would appeal to a French audience – they did not.”When Will You Marry?” was placed on consignment in an exhibition, but after failing to sell, it remained with the artist until his death in 1903.

In 2015, “When Will You Marry?” sold to a member of the Qatari royal family for close to US $300 million (exact price unknown). To date, it, along with Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange”, is the most expensive painting ever sold. Its current whereabouts are unknown. I wonder what Gauguin would have thought.

Canada’s Most Hated Painting

Despite being purchased 24 years ago, Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire is Canada’s most polarizing artwork.


Voice_of_Fire_photo cropped

ABOVE: Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 212.6 x 94.5 inches, National Gallery of Canada

“You know that painting the National Gallery of Canada spent…like…millions of dollars on? I don’t get it. It’s just a line down a canvas. What a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

If you live in Canada, chances are, you’ve heard some variation of the above statement – maybe, someone’s heard you say it.

The painting in question is Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire, and despite being purchased 24 years ago, it is Canada’s most polarizing artwork.

I could get all nerdy and explain why Voice of Fire is an important piece.

I could point out that never, has an artwork commanded such a prominent place in the national conversation.

I could go on and on, but I doubt it would change anyone’s mind.

Instead, I will leave you with this:

In 1989, the National Gallery of Canada purchased Voice of Fire for $1.8 million. In 2013, Sotheby’s sold a similar painting by the same artist for $43.8 million.

A great work of art? Debatable. A waste of taxpayers’ money? Absolutely not!