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Confluencia: The Paintings of Diego Donner


is pleased to present the paintings of Diego Donner (b. 1959, Montevideo, Uruguay). They are immediately appealing at a purely aesthetic level — the textured canvases are worked and re-worked to create relief-like surfaces. Yet, they are not sculptural. Rather, these paintings completely confirm the flatness of the canvases as two-dimensional objects. Donner’s work reflects globalization in the best sense as a crucible for creative effort, the vast opportunity presented by mutual cultural exchange, and what can be learned from the examination of the diversity of human expression.
The visual beauty of Donner’s work belies a highly complex integration of numerous influences and an effort to form a metaphysical reality and order. Visually, Donner’s paintings evoke the art brut period of Jean Dubuffet with roughly hewn symbols and images that seek absolute truths. These images also call to mind the geometry of pictograms found throughout the Americas associated with ancient indigenous peoples.

To fully understand Donner’s work, it is helpful to understand Universal Constructivism and the work of Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres-García (1874-1949). Born in Uruguay, Torres-García spent much of his life abroad — in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and New York. He digested the avant-garde artistic trends of the Cubist experiments of artists like Pablo Picasso and George Braque and the philosophies of artists like Piet Mondrian. These included the idea of being “true” to materials – that is, that the flat plain of a canvas was simply a flat plane rather than a mode for expressing three dimensions. Torres-García returned to Montevideo with the idea of integrating these concepts with indigenous expressions to find a universal set of symbols and truths.
This effort synthesized uniquely local, ancient ideas and aesthetics (such as pre-Columbian art) with artistic and intellectual movements outside Uruguay. The goal was to find essential human commonalities in the diversity of human expression. Diverse influences were integrated into reductive, universal symbols. This was a willful attempt at social, intellectual, and aesthetic construction (hence the name “Constructivism”). It differed from the perhaps more familiar Russian Constructivism which, while also highly influenced by the work of the Cubists, focused more on universal truths of scientific rationality rather than human commonalities.

Donner’s work is formed by a wide range of personal and artistic sources in addition to the seminal impact of Torres-García and “does not adhere strictly to that school of thought.” As a boy, he visited the studio of Jose Gurvich (1927-1974) who was a close friend of his parents. Born in Lithuania, Gurvich settled with his family in Montevideo in 1933 and became one of the most important exponents of the Uruguayan Constructivist school of art. “They were close friends, Gurvich and my parents, and you can imagine how this influenced me. In my boyhood home, there were many pieces of the Constructivist style, as well as many African pieces of art.” Donner explains that, “I am not only influenced by the Constructivists, but also those ideas and inspirations that inspired the Constructivists themselves like the so-called “Primitive Symbolic Art” from different cultures and times throughout the world.”
As an artist of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, Donner does not struggle with notions of “Latin American identity” and modernity in the same intense and conscious way as his Uruguayan predecessors of the 1920s and ‘30s. Donner’s work reflects a distinctly Latin American and particularly Uruguayan expression by combining a wide range of influences – a “confluencia” of ideas and symbols, universal in its sensual, human approach to painting.
We wish to thank His Excellency Ambassador Hugo Fernández Faingold, Ambassador of Uruguay to the United States, the Uruguay Cultural Foundation for the Arts in Washington, D.C. and its director, Florencia.


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