Swizzle Sick and Lemon Wedge, 2008
scrap wood, glue, pencil, varnish, wall paint, mounted on card-board
41 x 31 x 6 cm
Donelle Woolford is an African American woman artist of the 21st century. Her medium is wood. Working alone in the remote corner of a lumber reclamation factory in the shadows of a faded industrial town, she rekindles past glories by reconstructing them from memory. Her assemblage paintings, Cubist in spirit, are intentionally made to coincide with and challenge the centennial anniversary of that movement.
From close inspection, Donelle Woolford’s work seems to be postmodernism wrapped in identity politics filtered through memory and personal experience. The question is, on which memories are her reconstructions based? African art? Postmodernism? A manufacturing-based economy? Cubism? When images just come to you, when they just well up out of the debris under your feet as if by instinct, where do they come from? Is Donelle Woolford, having been made aware of the twentieth century’s dominant aesthetic by various institutions of higher learning, merely regurgitating it on their behalf? Or is she reaching back, like a time machine, through Picasso and Braque to a more distant West African ancestry? And given the Postmodern theories of cultural origin and influence that are the basis of Identity politics, is that kind of dissimilation even possible?
As one investigates further, we come back to the beginning of the story: Donelle Woolford is a narrative by Joe Scanlan.
Joe Scanlan has worked with Donelle Woolford as an alter ego for his Cubist paintings. Though lying passively in disguise for years, Donelle Woolford, a character spawned from an amalgam of myth, fact, aesthetics and economics, now rises from the page to become a real, walking, talking artist, the living embodiment of her work.
The essential question posed by Donelle Woolford or, to be more precise, Joe Scanlan is the willingness of the artist to be free, to be imaginative, to do whatever is necessary to construct the best narrative possible. If that narrative is compelling, and if its characters and ideas and material props are desirable, then the commodification of art and politics that ensues has the potential to change the dialogue between art and the consumers of art that is, between art and its audience. If one of the consequences of that potential, that change, is that one artist must recede into the background so that another can take center stage, then so be it. To quote Joe Scanlan: "I try not to let myself get in the way of a good idea."
Donelle Woolford, Narrative artist. Donelle Woolford, Cubist painter. Donelle Woolford, avatar. The possibilities are endless.