Macdonald’s work abstracts through the creation of palimpsests. Like viewing the interior of a house through gauze, or the next page of a book through a velum layer of handwriting, emphasis is achieved through mystery, shadow, hiddenness. It should come as no surprise that Macdonald is also a bookmaker; her love of paper, texture, and language are underscored in that work. What narrative is present in her images has this sense of book-ness—her images can seem singular pages of fleeting beauty taken from some dark fable. Her figures have stories that range before and after these moments, and those stories are somehow contained within the single image. If, as Diane Arbus once said, “a photograph is a secret about a secret,” then Macdonald’s work is a secret upon a secret. The levels interact to comment on one another, and the interplay between them can be harmonious or dissonant, obscuring or revelatory.
The artist’s interference in the world is what makes of the world art, but always that interaction causes friction. In Macdonald’s work, black-and-white photography reduces an image to contrast and line. Then wax and paint re-introduce color in a manner invoking memory. Stencils and floral patterning both distract the eye and create background against which an image comes into focus—as the wax and the materials beneath it vie for attention. Since the tapestry makers of the middle ages, flowers have served artists as both powerful symbol and as decorative field. Macdonald’s recent work reverses this traditional foreground and background. She seems to suggest the flower as figure: after all, like the body itself, a bloom suggests brevity—of life, its tenuous beauty. And yet Macdonald’s painted photographs and collages evoke timelessness, an insistence upon beauty arising from and protecting us from chaos, a talisman against darkness. Still, the darkness is present—in the opaque black wax of a rupturing bloom, in the ghostly outline of a vine etched white-into-white, its milky viscosity.
In recent pieces where her pattern work is foregrounded, the material becomes insistent. The viewer begins to notice the wax, to question its relationship to the subject matter. What is the connection between human, flower, and bee (the producer of the wax Macdonald uses called to mind through hexagonal patterning)? It is the bee who travels between flowers, reproducing them but also harvesting pollen for its own use. So does Macdonald reproduce these subjects—flowers and the female form... and in the process seems to steal material for her own mysterious purpose. Macdonald uses both chemical and physical processes in her art: she photographs, she collages, she paints with oils and wax, she marks her images, sometimes scars them. But this making art upon art she does with the sensitivity of a poet. She is not about destruction but about extraction: she brings to the surface the worlds that hide within and behind. This is already an interior world, a dreamt world, an elusive world half-remembered, available to multiple interpretations, never-fully-grasped. Figure and flower, photograph and wax: Macdonald’s hybrid art makes space for the in-between-ness of experience. We are neither one thing nor another, not fully our past and its traumas, not fully the beauty we seek—we are all of these, accreted layer by layer over years. And we are the space between.
The human condition along with our environmental, and cultural health are vitally important to me. I have years of involvement with the disenfranchised members of society. My very first project in photography at age fifteen was documenting homeless people who lived underneath the ground at Suburban Station in Philadelphia. As a young artist in San Francisco, I reached out to the public in a newspaper ad asking for women to be photographed who had evidence of life trauma or injury. I am inspired to use real life to tell a story. At times, my art has been directed to areas of social challenges: homelessness, sexual identity, drug addiction, and physical pain. Recently, my work has become more abstract and more imaginative but still based on important social realities. I have integrated many forms of media to describe the physical and emotional trauma of my subjects. Starting with black and white film photography, my art and teachings have expanded to digital imagery, book arts, film making, spoken word, theater installations, performance, video and encaustic photographs.
1998 California College of Arts & Crafts, Oakland, CA MFA, Photography
1993 San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA BFA, Photography
Awards & Honors
2018 Encaustic Castle, Lexington, KY Two week artist residency with stipend to create a new body of artwork
CFEVA/New Courtland Fellowship, Philadelphia, PA Grant Recipient