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Get to Know: Donnamaria Bruton

Updated: Nov 17

The Narrative's latest series, 'Get to Know,' sheds light on our favorite artists found within, and beyond, the Art Gallery at Black Studies's (AGBS) growing art collection. We launch this series with a thoughtful look at the multi-layered works of Donnamaria Bruton--one of the first artists welcomed into AGBS's collection. In this inaugural essay, Kendyll Gross, AGBS Education and Visitor Services Coordinator, looks at how the artist's doubt, led her to find new truths.

Donnamaria Bruton, Chandelier, 1996-1998. Mixed media on board.

Image courtesy of Cade Tompkins Projects.


Donnamaria Bruton's Truth and Doubt

By Kendyll Gross


The late artist, Donnamaria Bruton, is best known for her use of color, texture, and for incorporating layered stencils and soft washes of paint to give her work an atmospheric quality. The artist’s keen interest in Abstract Expressionism can be seen in her surreal approach to the mundane world. Objects commonly associated with domestic interiors seem to fade and float within the background, while lace-like motifs move across the canvas. By exploring everyday objects and dreamy landscapes, Bruton reminds us of art's ability to acknowledge deeper meanings and truths.

Donnamaria Bruton, Calculating Self, ca. 1993. Paper collage, gold leaf, stencil, acrylic on board. Image courtesy of Cade Tompkins Projects.


Bruton was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1954, and passed away on September 9, 2012. After receiving her BFA in Graphic Design in 1976, she moved to Delaware to study art with her uncle, the figurative painter Edward Loper, Sr. Speaking about her uncle in a short documentary film, Bruton stated, “I had skills but I had doubts. There was De Kooning and there was Cy Twombly and all these people I admired. And then there was my uncle and his strict adherence to ways to apply paint. I think that I just began to take those doubts and questions into the work.” [1] Bruton also briefly worked for the Chrysler Corporation as a Color and Fabric Stylist (an experience that may have influenced her later dress sculptures).

By exploring everyday objects and dreamy landscapes, Bruton reminds us of art's ability to acknowledge deeper meanings and truths.

The artist continued her education with an MFA from Yale University in Painting & Printmaking in 1991. While Bruton briefly taught at the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, her greatest role as an educator came from her time at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where she taught as a Professor of Painting for over 15 years. In addition to her teaching, Bruton continued to exhibit in numerous group and solo shows throughout the United States and abroad in Korea, France, Canada, and Japan. Her artwork can also be found in the collections of the RISD Museum in Rhode Island and the Yale University Art Gallery in Connecticut.

Donnamaria Bruton, Untitled Landscape III, 2010-11. Acrylic and paper on board.

Image courtesy of Cade Tompkins Projects.

"I think that I just began to take those doubts and questions into the work.”

In an artist statement, Donnamaria Bruton wrote, “Rising above the human condition has truly been a journey from sense to soul. A pilgrimage to a holy or secret place of refuge. My body of work is a reflection of my ongoing search for truth and the poetry of that experience.” [2] The artist’s search for truth and poetic experience is demonstrated in her working process and oeuvre. Collage plays an important role in Bruton’s artwork, as she pieced together multiple materials to create compositions that incorporated figurative drawings or shapes, paint, fabrics, or intricate cut-outs. As viewers witness Bruton’s layered works, shapes and fragments may emerge and then recede, or common household items may seem abstracted. Depicting a range of subjects, from interiors to still lives, Bruton wanted to explore how visual art can transport views from one mode of consciousness to another. Her artwork encourages deep contemplation, inviting audiences to turn inward and consider their own memories, dreams, and experiences.

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[1] NetWorks Rhode Island. “Donna Bruton.” YouTube video, 8:02. Oct 19, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDB7-tqeasU&ab_channel=

NetWorksRhodeIsland

[2] “Donna Bruton-Coutis.” The Newport Daily News.September 14, 2012. https://www.newportri.com/article/20120914/OBITUARIES/309149965.