Music, nature, and a paintbrush: Tim McDonald shares his latest collection ‘the drums are the sun’

By Cara McCarthy, Associate Editor

The Mazmanian Art Gallery hosted their latest installment of their Tuesday Talks series on Zoom, Oct. 13 with a presentation by Art professor Tim McDonald.

Director of the Mazmanian Art Gallery, Ellie Krakow, introduced McDonald and said the talk would be unlike past sessions, as McDonald said he wanted it to be “more of a conversation,” which consisted of a 20-minute presentation followed by a question and answer portion lead by Mazmanian Art Gallery interns – Samantha Coombs and Haley Donahue.

The 2020-21 academic year will mark McDonald’s 15th anniversary with the University, according to Coombs, who introduced McDonald and gave a brief overview of his career as an artist and professor.

McDonald earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Studio Art from the University of Rhode Island in 1983 and would go on to get his MFA in Painting from East Tennessee State University in 2005, according to Coombs.

She added his works have been displayed in solo and group exhibitions locally and nationally, most recently at Farm Project Space in Wellfleet.

“He lives with his life partner in Fitchburg and Wilmington, North Carolina with several rescue animal companions – where he makes art, reads extensively, shovels snow, mows grass, watches birds, and drinks too much coffee,” she said.

Having had McDonald as a professor herself, Coombs said she was very excited to talk about how his thought process and personal experiences have affected his artwork.

McDonald then began his talk by thanking Coombs and Donahue for the “great work” they’d been doing with the talks. “I want to thank Ellie for organizing these Tuesday Talks and really… I’m humbled to be in a lineup with the group that you’ve assembled for these talks,” he said.

McDonald began his talk by telling those in attendance he was only going to talk about his most recent works.

He said this would be the first time people would be seeing his artwork aside from – what he said, were poorly photographed Instagram posts.

McDonald said the discussion would be a great opportunity for other people to share their thoughts on his work.

He then proceeded to pull up his presentation titled, “the drums are the sun,” after his most recent project.

“I wanted to say that I am coming to you from the Breadmill Creek Watershed in Cape Fear River Basin in Wilmington, North Carolina,” he said. “That’s where I’ve been basically since March.

“I came down here for what I expected to be two months,” he added. “And I ended up being here from March until July.”

According to McDonald, his new pieces of art deal with abstraction and his experiences in the natural world.

He said while he was working on his pieces, he “stumbled” upon several tantric paintings from Rajasthan. He said he was amazed by, what he called, “contemporary abstraction” of the paintings and said he felt a “kinship” with them.

“I’ve been working relatively small for a while, so I’ve sort of gravitated to that,” he said. “I was like, ‘how do you make this work at this scale?’”

He decided these works would be 2 feet by 2 feet.

McDonald explained how he was inspired by Terry Winters’s work – an artist who specialized in painting natural systems, systems of thought, and systems of mathematics. He said, “I was especially drawn to his drawings, but the last body of paintings that he made, ‘chromatic feel’ – the last ones I saw in person – I was really drawn to.

“I started keeping that stuff in mind when I came down here,” he added.

He said he decided his paintings would be in a diamond format because he was inspired by a song he was listening to at the time called “The Diamond Sea.”

McDonald shared later in his presentation much of his inspiration comes from music as well as nature – specifically his desire to be near the beach.

The first painting he shared, “the drums are the sun he heard someone say.” A diamond shaped canvas with a yellow, sun-like shape in the middle that gets darker until it mimics the color of the night sky.

He said the title of the painting comes from Rion Amilcar Scott’s short story, “The Last Son of God.”

“Many of the paintings that I made during this time kind of fit either visually or thematically with the original idea of making paintings over the light of the sea,” he said.

He then shared “swirling and gathering toward the ocean toward the shore,” another diamond shaped piece that resembles that of a stone tile.

“It was like the stones that wash up on the beach – the tide goes in, the tide goes out,” he said. “And it makes this pattern on the shore.

“And ultimately, I saw the painting in the midst of its making, and that’s what determined where it went,” he added.

Before introducing his piece, “ancient cape fear,” he said he was inspired by painted utility poles – “ancient cape fear” was written on one.

The photo, which was taken from a canoe, shows the trees being reflected into the water as the sun was setting.

He then proceeded to share “longleaf,” which he said was inspired by the colors in the bark of the long leaf tree and feature thick, vain purple and neon green lines that resembled the nearly extinct tree, according to McDonald.

After sharing a few more pieces of artwork, he said he was only giving “an overview” of his work.

In total, McDonald said he made 16 paintings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic after deciding to stay in North Carolina while he taught remotely.

“The world is feeling particularly toxic for me – as it has for whatever reason,” he said. “And I was just feeling the pressure and it was pushing down on me – I needed to do something.”

He concluded by saying he made the paintings to be a “refuge” for himself.

Following up on his presentation, Donahue and Coombs asked McDonald questions about his work.

Donahue asked, “Do you find it easier to get your intentions across when posing your statement as a question being asked of you and delivering it in a poetic way?

“Does the poetic nature of your statement accompany any other works?” she added. “I know you talk a lot about other art forms in your own art.”

McDonald responded by saying he feels like it’s really hard to write a statement about his works. He said, “I was getting nowhere with it – because I’m still thinking about the work, it’s not all super clarified for me with what I’m doing.

“It’s a way for me to think about everything that’s riding under and through it,” he added.

He was also asked if his paintings shared a common theme or if they were meant to be viewed in a particular order.

“They all relate because they’re all sort of evocation of consciousness, but self contained in its shapes,” McDonald said.

[Editor’s note: Patrick Brady, staff writer, contributed to this article.]