Can you help us? If you're local to Toronto, you might just be! We're on a mission to authenticate this painting and find the sitter! I purchased this unfinished canvas in June of 2018 from a woman who said she had bought it from the estate of late artist, Lynn Donoghue. Lynn was a well-know, accomplished artist who worked out of her home studio in Toronto, Ontario. She began exhibiting in the 1970s and was known for her bold colours and her marriage of abstraction and the human figure. Sometimes controversial, Lynn's early large canvases of the male nude were refused by some galleries, but she continued in her quest to project real people and most often painted sitters in person rather than from photographs. Lynn passed away unexpectedly in 2003 in a diabetic coma. Once I had acquired the unfinished canvas, I showed it to friend and artist Meredith Blunt, who I felt would love the colourful strokes and flowing vibe. Without knowing of Lynn Donoghue, Meredith immediately saw what the original artist was intending with the first layers of paint and set out to bring the unfinished piece to it's intended glory. You can read about what magic happened next, below.
If you have any information about Lynn Donoghue, about whether the unfinished canvas was indeed her work or if you know who was sitting for the artist in the creation of this work of art, we'd love to hear from you.
Today this piece hangs at the Webb Schoolhouse in our private collection where it is treasured.
THIS MUST HAVE BEEN SOMEBODY TOO
Written by Meredith Blunt (July 2018)
When my work reaches that point where completion is not going to happen and accepting that it’s unfinished, I’m alright with it. That’s easier for me than dealing with our dishwasher left half emptied because some distraction or other priority popped up. It’s not because my art isn’t important or crucial to my daily existence, it is because sometimes my art is not meant to be, or cannot be, finished. An incomplete painting is an interesting path my projects can take me along and lets me reflect on my processes, from brain to paint on canvas.
But what about a work of art that was interrupted, left unfinished, because of circumstances beyond the realms of choice. What happens to that energy? That vision? That life that was moving from the artist to the brush, to the paint, to the canvas? What happens when the connection between the artist and their work was severed unexpectedly? Given my most recent painting experience, I have to believe that energy finds a way to fulfill its purpose.
On July 9th, Angela texted me this;
The figure I saw on the right side of the canvas came into focus with powerful feelings of clarity and urgency. Nevermind that I’m in the midst of packing my family up for a move and adventure in a new city, nevermind that all my art supplies were packed, nevermind that my art-practice as been on hold for more than a year because of depression, anxiety and withdrawing into my interior world to protect parts of my psyche that were fragile and dark. There was this sudden, urgent presence that needed to exist immediately via my hand and paint. While my packing boxes, overtired kids, and life swirled around me I paused to put Angela’s texted photo into the painting app I use on my ipad and bring this figure out. It didn’t take long, and I sent it to my friend the moment I knew I could show her what I saw.
Just a brief, simple, light layer. Felt like hardly any paint at all. Well... at this stage it was absolutely no paint because it was just a layer in a digital painting app. The only way I could get the image out because I’d packed all my brushes and paints!! Angela saw what I saw…
I had no idea who Lynn Donoghue is. No vague recognition, no nothing. Am I embarrassed, kinda...her figure paintings are superb. Am I surprised? No, not really. I should know of more contemporary artists than I do, it would be good for me to but then something like this would likely not have happened. If I was familiar with Lynn Donoghue’s work it’s likely it would have influenced how I treated Angela’s initial question and how I looked at the canvas. Knowledge of the artist and her work I believe would have restricted me, not entirely negatively but out of respect, out of fear, out of you just don’t mess with another artists work.
Ignorance, in this case, gave me confidence. Something I lack more often than not. I was confident in what I saw in the canvas. I was confident that I was feeling this painting correctly. I was confident that the work that I needed to do on Lynn’s canvas would happen immediately. Had to happen immediately! How Angela acquired this unfinished painting and how she was pulled to it...well, I dunno, let’s just say there was some spectacular, spooky, unfettered energy at work!
The days passed with excited texting, trying to secure time and reading about Lynn Donoghue. There was no going back at this point. Her canvas was as good as done to me. Five days after the initial text from Angela, nothing else mattered.
So why did the painting come to Angela and I unfinished? Lynn died. Unexpectedly. She had no warning, no timeline to complete her works, to acknowledge the moments she had left, to prioritize her creations. After an insulin reaction that led to a coma, Lynn died on November 22, 2003. 15 years later one of the brightest, most observant humans I know found herself with this canvas (and for clarity the canvas is not yet authenticated but believed to be one of Lynn Donoghue’s) and I found myself completely preoccupied with what I had seen in the unfinished painting. I was preoccupied on how it would have felt for the artist, on the life we choose to put into our art and what happens when our own mortality ends our creativity.
Despite loving spending time with Angela and her family, I was on the edge of rudeness I was so eager to get my hands on the painting. The canvas was poised, like a bright window to another realm, like a wish fulfilled if I could just touch it, behind my friends while we talked and caught up on our lives and the kids ran around like the wild things they are. If anything, Angela and her fam just wound me up even more and I reached the equivalent of Christmas morning feelings of seconds away from shredding the paper concealing a gift you’ve waited and wished for!
I have not worked from a figure in years. Years and years! While I worked on this canvas that wasn’t mine, while I applied real paint to this wonderfully huge canvas I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was painting someone from life, who loved Lynn’s figure paintings. I didn’t hesitate, I never felt like I shouldn’t be doing this, I felt like I was being urged and guided by the colours already laid out. I felt like I was collaborating, permitted, inspired and driven. I knew the colours I needed to use. Maybe it’s presumptuous and egotistical to say but the feeling was one of being instructed by an artist, unable to physically apply the paint herself. Ghost painting, channeling, I have no clue, but it was powerful and easy.
My brain hummed away to the colours and the developing form. I’m not sure how much time passed but I got to a point where it may have been finished but I wasn’t sure. This feeling is familiar. Looking at something so intensely, your eyes and your mind can create blind spots. I needed to see around the blind spot. Angela’s ability to SEE and explain what she’s seeing was exactly the boost I needed. We were around the blindspot and glided with a little definition and toning down to the tangible, real paint version of my digital layer and the figure was complete. The canvas wasn’t signed when I started, and I’ve left it unsigned. This energetic, disruptive, bright, exposed female body was gazing out into the world and revealing none of her thoughts to us. Confidently leaving us guessing at what’s she’s thinking and seeing, leaving us to enjoy, be challenged or be confronted with our own inhibitions.
The painting is lively, she speaks everything she needs to. If it wasn’t evident I am honoured and in love with having the opportunity to be the artist who moved the canvas from unfinished to a bold, challenging completed painting.
Meredith (July, 2018)