By Elaine Hujer, The Spectator, December 6, 1998.
Julie Donec’s art seeks out the magic and the marvelous in the most commonplace experience.
In everyday life she finds an angel in a subway, a demon in a striped cat, a “soul meter” in an abandoned wooden box.
Donec’s work is currently on view in the sanctuary of St. James Anglican Church, in Dundas.The ecclesiastical setting provides a perfect backdrop for a show that’s called Angles and Devils.
Donec is a Burlington resident who attended Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver. She received a scholarship to study etching in Florence, Italy, and later became a member for the prestigious Malspina Printmakers’ Society in Vancouver.
Spectator readers may be surprised to find out that they are already familiar with her work; Donec freelances as a court artist for the newspaper and has done courtroom sketches at some of Hamilton’s most notorious trials.
Her exhibition is the product of two years’ hard work, although she says that she has been thinking about the nature of good and evil, angels and devils, all her life.
Her belief is that these supernatural creatures exist all around us, the angels dominant in peaceful times of quiet or repose, the demons exploding in the malevolent bursts of violent energy. She is “thrilled” to have her work shown in such a spiritual venue.
“Oh, I love these Anglicans,” she beams, “they have exhibitions in the church all the time and make wonderful use of art to celebrate the religious experience.”
This artist is a consummate draughtsman with an extraordinary graphic skill.
Her finest works are exquisitely crafted, intense, and concise in expression.In two portraits of young women, for instance, all of the vulnerability of early adolescence is captured through remarkably sensitive lines. In Innocence, a poignant image of a young girl resting on a couch, the wide-eyed profile is delineated to express a sort of pensive melancholy.
The tiny bones in her feet and hands are emphasized to suggest the fragility of her youthful body.
In study of Magdalena, a portrait of the artists’ niece, soft, curling wisps of hair frame the refined bond structure of the youthful skull. A miniature drawing of an angel in silverpoint, a most unforgiving medium, is a tiny gem of tender feeling and descriptive illustration.
“When I see something I like,” Donec says, “I have to try it.I feel that I shouldn’t be limited as an artist – my hands are capable of that”
As a result, Donec works in a wide variety of media.
This exhibition includes, for examples: two works painted in egg tempera on Gothic panels of treated limewood; a representation of an annunciation with a woman “finding her own power and realizing her own worth” as she examines her nude body in a mirror, and a wonderfully baroque musical angel.
A lithograph of the Minotaur is striated, angry and black, “a monster like a broken machine bellowing in darkness by itself.”An etching of a black Madonna suggests a Byzantine icon.
An allegorical painting of Christ on a Subway uses oil and egg tempera to give the subway car a warm amber glow “like a cathedral.”
In an oil painting of Lucifer, the pain of the fallen angel’s separation from God is made palpable in the crouching posture, the dangling hand and the angry wounds on the muscular back where wings had once been attached.
Donec also demonstrates an eager interest in the stylistic experimentation and a few pieces are more abstracted and enigmatic: A “wild work” is a painting of a demon in which childlike drawing and clashing colours meld in a dynamic eruption.
And a more conceptual piece is a black box that opens to reveal a clock with moving, diametrically-opposed hands, a “life force” crystal and a mirror.
Donec calls the work Soul Meter and explains that it was inspired by an old box that was found in an abandoned house.
“This is black magic box that measures a different kind of time,” she says. “Art time is dream time, a time when I can see a crack in the sidewalk and get an idea.”
This artists’ work give the lie to the famous statement of the 19th century Realist painter Gustave Courbet who snorted derisively. “I’ve never seen an angel, so how could I paint one?”
Donec’s work reminds us that if we look with a discerning and imaginative eye, it’s hard to miss the forces of good and evil, the angels and devils, that are all around us.