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Painter Alison O'Donoghue: At Home In Portland

Portland painter Alison O’Donoghue treats serious subjects with a light touch.

Painter Alison O’Donoghue was born and raised in Portland, and though she still lives here, her quest for a home and the familiarity and support that go with it continues. At least in her work.

“We moved all the time, every three or four months,” O’Donoghue explains. “I went to 11 different grade schools and four high schools.”

One common element in much of O’Donoghue’s work is houses.

“To me houses represent stability, which is very important to me,” she says. Important, but O’Donoghue’s treatment of the subject matter is anything but heavy.

“Wishing Walls” and “Why Me, Why You” feature houses prominently. But these vine-wrapped houses look abandoned, a condition O’Donoghue bemusedly describes as “sad.”

Stylistically, O’Donoghue’s paintings share the innocence and simplicity most people associate with folk art. Along with houses, her work is populated with calmly floating figures and familiar images like plants, food, friendly animals and even snails.

“Snails and Worms” shows a double-faced woman whimsically nurturing everyone — and everything — around her.

“She has little worms coming up to her,” explains O’Donoghue. “They all need help, and all the worms are crying and the tears are coming out of their eyes. One worm died from his sadness and fell down.”

“And then on the other side,” she continues, “where the snails are coming up … they were all happy because a snail [with its home right on its back] has security. A worm doesn’t have any security.”

Poor worms … As O’Donoghue sees it, this seemingly tragic scene plays out with warmth and humor.

“It worked in this kind of playful way. I like my work to be playful.”

“If you look at my paintings there’s often an animal at the bottom and they are doing the work, and I always feed them; there’s always a bowl of food or a cup of coffee,” she explains. “Because they are doing the work. It’s an abundance kind of thing where everything is abundant and good.”

“Riding into the Future” shows a woman, who O’Donoghue readily admits is herself, riding one of these supportive animals, presumably into the future … though it’s heading to the left instead of to the right.

“There’s a little problem with the title because it looks like she’s riding into the past … Maybe she is and I just don’t want to say that she’s riding into the past,” O’Donoghue laughs.

Whatever the destination, Alison O’Donoghue is moving into the future, and you’re welcome to come along for the ride.

You can see Alison O’Donoghue’s work at Portland’s Guardino Gallery from June 27-July 23, 2013.
Watch our Oregon Art Beat story about Alison O’Donoghue.

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Painter Alison O'Donoghue

Alison O'Donoghue's playful, often amusing paintings look like folk art. And like a lot of folk art from across the world, her images are convivial takes on very real issues - loss, healing and the process of aging. Alison is creating a framework to confront and tap into deeper psychological streams of consciousness. The wry, seemingly innocent scenarios that emerge are surprising and engaging.