Featured Artist: Brian R Donnelly

Reader, meet Brian R Donnelly, our Artist of the Month.

A lot of your paintings are done with oil and hand sanitizer. Why do you do it this way and how do you use the latter?

I was making a lot of work with really abrupt edits between 2005 and 2011. Life-sized nudes with areas painted over with primer white and then animal parts/heads over top. I was just enjoying being a little aggressive with a medium that can be close to meditative for me. It was a solid juxtaposition, but I wanted to take it further.

I started to think about artworks that had been destroyed, which led to works that had been damaged and vandalized. I found some images of artworks that had been sprayed with acid, and everything started falling into place. I started trying to recreate this type of visual disturbance in my own work. I started painting portraits with the intent of destroying them as soon as they were finished. 

It took a couple of years of research on how to get the paint to pull away from the canvas and leave behind a bright trail of striae.  Hand sanitizer was just part of the recipe that worked best.  

Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers

Your pieces are so distinctive and bold, using a lot of human/animal elements. How would you describe your style?

I don't know that I could describe my style. Lately, it's been a kind of record of absence. Painting things that wont exist soon, and don't exist by the time the viewer is present. A complicated relationship at best. I'm asking the viewer to consider something outside of the usual: Work that has been compromised in order to be completed, which has meant a few different things. 

I have thrown axes at a portrait until it lay in splinters, cut paintings into smaller pieces and pressed them into pinback buttons, and last year I set a piece on fire. The piece was always meant to be burned. I spent a month or so working on it to make it 'perfect'. Had it professionally scanned, burned the original, made a small run of archival prints and signed them using the ashes of the original.

It's a paradoxical dialogue about art and how we see and relate to it.


We love how you sometimes use textures as part of your work, like hair, plaits, or part the canvas itself. Where did the idea to do this come from?

The hair started becoming a focal point in my work when I started using hand sanitizer. Once the face had been obliterated, the only form left behind was often the hair. This is where I started to see parallels between the long striae of colour and the strands of hair.

When I started cutting the canvas it felt like a natural progression to create a parallel between the two visual elements. Knotting up the loose threads below a painted bun, or braiding to meet two painted braids just made sense.

What inspires you?

Failure. And response to failure.

Double Blind

Double Blind

Where does your love of painting and art come from? How did you get started?

Painting is about working with my hands to create something. I think I got it from my father. He would say it was a hobby, but he was much too good with his hands to be considered a hobbyist. 

My memories of childhood are filled with the smell of sawdust and the sharp sound of a circular saw. He would make functional things around the house like furniture, but it wasn't only because we needed the furniture. He wanted the satisfaction of making it, and making it well. I think this is how my painting style developed, to see my hands recreate something well.  

Snarling Politely

Snarling Politely

If your art was music, what type of music would it be?

If my art were music it would be written sheet music, in a sealed manila envelope, locked in a glass box and never performed. It would definitely be music, but you would have to be willing to accept it as such without ever hearing or reading it. 

What is your favourite piece you've ever created?

The one I'm going to start next.