NinaJohnson

Madeline Donahue: Present Tense

January 18th - February 17th, 2024
  • Installation view of Madeline Donahue: Present Tense on view in the Front Gallery. Photographed are oil on canvas paintings titled "Toys" and "Sunscreen."
    Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.

Nina Johnson is pleased to announce Present Tense, a solo exhibition of new and never-before-seen drawings and paintings by Texas-born, New York-based artist Madeline Donahue. Opening January 18th in the Front Gallery, the exhibition expands on the artist’s continued practice of exploring themes of intimacy, motherhood, and creating space for joy through shared lived experiences.

  • Overall image of Madeline Donahue's "Sunscreen." "Sunscreen" depicts a mother applying sunscreen to her daughter.
    Madeline Donahue, Sunscreen, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 40 in. Photography by Jake Holler.
  • Installation view of Madeline Donahue: Present Tense on view in the Front Gallery. Photographed are oil on canvas paintings titled "Sunscreen," "Circle," "Beam Me Up," and "Hip Height."
    Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.

Donahue is renowned for her paintings, drawings, and ceramics centered around pregnancy, birth, and owning a postpartum body. Her practice illuminates the surreal reality, physicality, emotionality, and interdependence of these experiences. Present Tense includes 25 drawings and 12 paintings. In the drawings on view, Donahue wryly sketches a hyper-present portrayal of her daily experience, focusing on places where she finds connections between her lived reality and popular culture or art. Through her paintings, Donahue highlights themes that she believes should be showcased on a grander scale, transforming the concepts from her drawings into a more expansive reimagination.

  • Overall image of Madeline Donahue's "Hip Height." "Hip Height" depicts a daughter standing in front of her mother's torso, holding hands with one another. The daughter measures to the height of her mother's hip.
    Madeline Donahue, Hip Height, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 24 in. Photography by Jake Holler.
  • Installation view of Madeline Donahue: Present Tense on view in the Front Gallery. Photographed are oil on canvas paintings titled "Beam Me Up," "Red Studio," and "Hot Day."
    Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.

Of note in the exhibition is the painting Red Studio, which draws inspiration from a Matisse work of the same name. Donahue recently moved into a house that has a studio downstairs, which provides a physical divide between Donahue’s life as a parent and as an artist, allowing her to completely devote herself to both classic work, drawing parallels between Matisse’s life and her own, as she illustrates herself painting and her children playing. The artist puts her creative life and her intimate life at the center of the composition to make space for a female artist in a historically male-dominated art world.

  • Overall image of Madeline Donahue's "Red Studio." "Red Studio" is inspired by Matisse's work of the same name and depicts Madeline painting and her children playing in her studio.
    Madeline Donahue, Red Studio, Oil on Canvas, 62 x 73 in. Photography by Jake Holler.
  • Installation view of Madeline Donahue: Present Tense on view in the Front Gallery. Photographed are oil on canvas paintings titled "A Really Nice Place to Enjoy You" and "Floor is Lava."
    Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.

Other significant works include Beam Me Up, which references the way characters in the Star Trek movies are teleported to the Enterprise spacecraft—a symbol of safety and rescue. With this work, Donahue compares her body to a symbol of security, comfort, and salvation, while also referencing a sense of invisibility and invaluableness that comes with taking on this form.

  • Madeline Donahue, Beam Me Up, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 40 in. Photography by Jake Holler.
  • Installation view of Madeline Donahue: Present Tense on view in the Front Gallery. Photographed are oil on canvas paintings titled "Amorini at the Table," "Jump," and "Floor is Lava."
    Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.

Another piece, titled Circle, references works by Otto Dix, Alice Neel, and Lou Fratino to forefront intimacy and connection over gender. Donahue renders the motif from the perspective of the mother; covering the baby’s body with a diaper, creating eye contact between the mother and baby, and including the mother encircling the baby in an embrace. The mother is nude and vulnerable, the baby is protected and connected.

  • Overall image of Madeline Donahue's "Circle." "Circle" depicts the mother’s perspective; she covers her baby’s body with a diaper and encircles the baby in an embrace. The mother is nude and vulnerable, the baby is protected and connected, their eyes locked on eachother.
    Madeline Donahue, Circle, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 46 in. Photography by Jake Holler.
  • Installation view of Madeline Donahue: Present Tense on view in the Front Gallery. Photographed are color pencils on paper works titled "Post Partum," "Keep it Moving," and "Bye Bye Baby."
    Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.

“Part of my life as an artist involves the fantasy of the life of the artist. I work in my studio and play pretend in a way—pretending to be the artist while living the life of the artist. My goal is to have fun in the process,” said Madeline Donahue. “In summation: taking the shame, chaos, comedy, intimacy, joy, abjectness of my body and of being a mother and making art from it, then making art about the artmaking in that context.”

Present Tense will be on view through February 17th, 2024.

  • Madeline Donahue, House Party, Color pencil on paper, 14 x 11 in. Photography by Clare Gatto.
  • Installation view of “Madeline Donahue: Present Tense." Photography by Zachary Balber.
Madeline Donahue

Madeline Donahue (b. 1983, Houston, TX) makes paintings, drawings and ceramics that center on her experiences of pregnancy, birth, motherhood and owning a postpartum body. Her practice focuses on the surreal reality, physicality, emotionality and interdependence of these experiences. Intimacy is at the core of all of her work, addressing the simultaneous existence of abject and sublime facets implicit in the relationship with her children and body. These explorations detail these experiences - working through the isolation, fatigue, failure, anxiety, and joys of parenting. In Donahue’s work, pendulous breasts flap, stretched belly skin sags or flows. Many of her works include “bathers” - a nude figure moving through water, referencing Modernist portrayals of bathing women. She also references gymnastics, sports, and the “circus” of motherhood through titles, in the posture of her figures, and other visual representations. Each work is made efficiently in a fresh and fluid process that communicates and captures the immediacy of a present moment to create art.   Madeline Donahue’s solo exhibitions include “Fun House” with Praise Shadows Gallery, Boston; “Warm Up” with Artshack Brooklyn, and “Attachments” with Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in New York. She has participated in Untitled Art Fair and NADA Fair (Miami, FL) and exhibited extensively with galleries and museums across the US and UK including Johansson Projects (Oakland, CA), Lauren Powell Projects (Los Angeles, CA), Hesse Flatow (New York, NY), Deanna Evans Projects (Brooklyn, NY), and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA). Residencies include The Wassaic Project, Byrdcliffe Artist Colony, Artshack Ceramic Residency and Interlude Artist's Residency in Livingston, NY. Donahue’s work has been reviewed in the Guardian, Hyperallergic, and Elephant Magazine. Interviews include Sound + Vision Podcast, I Like Your Work Podcast, and Artist Mother Podcast. She recently participated in “A Conversation on Alice Neel, Art, and Motherhood” facilitated by Lauren Palmor, assistant curator of American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Donahue holds a BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (Boston, MA) and MFA from Brooklyn College (Brooklyn, NY). Madeline Donahue lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.