Kelley Donahue’s painted, large-scale ceramic pieces at T + H Gallery aren’t shaped like totems, but they have a totemic quality, layering and knotting images rather than stacking them. Donahue fleetly shifts from 2-D to 3-D, which imbues her figures with an oddly magical quality. She alternates between ancient and contemporary in a similar way.
“Yes to the Serpent” features an image of the Egyptian goddess Wadjet, with a snakelike body and magnificent wings, rising from a tree of life in pastel tones contoured in black. On Wadjet’s opposite side, Donahue portrays a friend as if she were a goddess.
The works are dense with imagery, and Donahue’s technique is strong, but they try too hard to express transcendence, and ignore the roles grit and darkness play in achieving it.
A more abstract piece offers more possibility. “Wading Through the Depths of What We Always Thought We Knew (thank you for collecting shells with me),” a round carpet of mussel-shell-like bits of clay, appears to shift as you walk around: It’s smooth and fluid at your feet, spiky on the opposite side. Here mystery arises straightforwardly from texture, while the other works explain mystery too much, and don’t trust it enough.