This week’s cover art, “Montauk Branches #20,” could not be more of a signature work for painter and assemblage artist Donna Corvi. Her impassioned mission is to express what resonates with her the most, which is capturing “trees, branches, wind and color.” She loves trees, particularly in their winter skeletal mode—bare branches that twist and turn in balletic poses that she creatively transfigures in her painting and sculpture. How ironic but pointedly evocative that Corvi chooses death forms to celebrate life.
As she says about her more recent work, which are “three-dimensional assemblage sculptures made out of natural and manufactured non-artistic materials and objets trouvés,” she looks to represent the destruction of trees due to pollution and public ignorance. As she says, it is the “slowly progressing degenerative process that we might hardly ever notice,” the dying of these elegantly beautiful woody perennial plants that “give us life, the air we breathe.”
Admirers of your painting may wonder why you have been increasingly turning to assembling bas-reliefs composed of branches, twigs, compound and spray paint. Would you elaborate?
I love The Art Barge [in Amagansett] and spend a couple of weeks there each summer, where I love to try out new things. One day a faculty member suggested I try three-dimensional work and I loved it. Coincidentally, I was recovering from a recent illness involving my lungs, and my breathing issues led to my interest in trees. I drive out to Montauk every weekend and see, especially in winter, how vines are choking the natural vegetation, how strangulation and deforestation are threatening trees. I had been collecting branches and twigs and painting them, small pieces, but ever since I took on assemblage seriously, the pieces are getting larger! I first showed an assemblage at a Guild Hall exhibit and was scared: what would people think? Then at opening night I saw someone spending a lot of appreciative time in front of one of my pieces, and it turned out to be the director of The Art Barge!
After graduating from The High School of Art and Design, The Parsons School of Design and The New School, you worked for 20 years as a commercial illustrator, using watercolor, airbrush and colored pencil. What led you to oil and acrylic?
I credit a faculty member at The Art Barge who said my work in acrylic hardly looked like acrylic, and suggested I mix the media. Now about three quarters of my paintings are in acrylic, fine-tuned by a layer of oil. In art school, these media are usually kept separate, but I love to experiment.
Do you see your position as Director of Special Events and Parents Association Liaison at the Marymount School of New York connecting to your life as a working artist?
Yes, I took a position at the Marymount School when my children went there but continued painting on weekends. Creative people usually wind up having their various lives come together. Recently, I oversaw the 90th anniversary gala and fundraiser for the school, an event for 800 people at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The lighting considerations alone drew on my interests and experiences as a visual artist. The school also has art exhibits for all divisions, and Marymount is, of course, housed in an artistic paradise: three beautiful Beaux Arts mansions, as glorious inside as out.
Donna Corvi has two tree-related pieces (one encaustic, the other an assemblage) in the “Love and Passion” at The White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton (through February 28). She plans to include some of her assemblage pieces in the Pocono Arts Council’s “Earth Speaks” exhibit, which will open on April 16 in Stroudsburg, PA. For more info, visit donnacorvi.com.