Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Kaye Donachie
I am so multiple in nights, 2005
Oil on canvas 67 x 38.5 cm

Maureen Paley, London
9th December 2005

The show comprises seven oil paintings on canvas, sparsely hung in the downstairs gallery. Large areas of wall have no work, all the paintings are a small size, none bigger than 70 x 50 cm, and some of the works are hung at odd heights. The title of the show is Monte Verità and as described in the press release for the show; "This was the site of an extraordinary utopian community, founded in the beginning of the 20th century on a hill above Ascona, Switzerland. The name was an allusion to historical and fictional traditions in which ‘truth’ is revealed on mountaintops. This was the hill where a number of advocates of utopia lived, loved, thought and built. They sought refuge from the industrialised culture dominating Northern Europe in the form of a counter-movement. The aim of the community was the establishment of a society promoting a ‘reform of life’, based on freedom, simplicity, new religious and spiritual values, they practised heliotherapy, naturism and advocated a symbiosis with nature. They rejected authoritarianism, capitalism and sexual taboos. The settlement became a magnet for the convergence of many ideas, movements and experiments."

This spirit is captured by Donachie’s work, in several of the paintings a figure seems to be glowing as if in some spiritual transformation. A sense of ‘return to nature’ and ‘love and peace’ pervades the work.

Donachie works from rare films and photographs of counter culture groups and uses drawings and watercolours as an interim step to distance herself from the photographs and reduce information prior to painting. Although fragmented, they are narrative based works, the paint is quite flat and the uniform treatment allows the paintings to be read together.

All the pieces had pretentious sounding titles, and the one of the painting I have chosen is the opening line from a poem by Emmy Hennings and the painting is a portrait of her. She was a performer and poet, and together with her husband the Dadaist Hugo Ball, was a founder member of Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1915. They were both members of the Monte Verità community and joined after they had clashed with the authorities in Germany.

I am so multiple in nights,
I climb out of the darkest pits.
How colourfully each other self unwinds.

The poem is melancholic and Donachie’s treatment picks up on that mood, particularly with the use of green as the flesh colour. She manages this without invoking thoughts of the Hollywood Frankensteinmonster and Halloween masks and the resulting image is both romantic and chilling.

©blackdog 2009


  1. Yes, your informations are very interesting! I heard of the Lebensreformer- (surely a typical German term) community 'Monte Verita' by a friend who stayed there. The famous poet Else Lasker-Schüler belonged to that community, too, and she was a "multiple" personality really -in her poems (under different names) and her biography, not only "in nights"! The portrait of Kay Donachie is impressive, and the greenish toning could enhance such a dreamy situation, although I could imagine also some others possibilities in order to 'present' a "multiple" character (in dreams or according the psychiatrist-term)- perhaps with references to the formerly mentioned Goya-painting?
    In our newspaper yesterday the "British wilds"(die britischen Wilden) were mentioned, does she belong to them?
    Emmy Hemmings expressed often her deep melancholy in her poems, e.g.

    Dir ist als ob ich schon gezeichnet wäre
    Und auf der Totenliste stünde.
    Es hält mich ab von mancher Sünde.
    Wie langsam ich am Leben zehre.
    Und ängstlich sind oft meine Schritte,
    Mein Herz hat einen kranken Schlag
    Und schwächer wird's mit jedem Tag.
    Ein Todesengel steht in meines Zimmers Mitte.
    Doch tanz ich bis zur Atemnot.
    Bald werde ich im Grabe liegen
    Und niemand wird sich an mich schmiegen.
    Ach, küssen will ich bis zum Tod.

    Emmy Ball-Hennings (geb. Emma Maria Cordsen, verw. Hennings)
    (geboren am 17. Januar 1885 in Flensburg
    gestorben am 10. August 1948 in Sorengo b. Lugano)

  2. Not sure who the Bristh Wilds are? Perhaps we have a different name for the group. Did the article mention any members?

    Donachie's work has consistently followed counterculture groups and other nonconformists. In past exhibitions I have seen references to Paul Klee, Kandinsky (Der Blau Reiter) and freemasonry. I too find her work interesting, and without researching it I would never have come across Emmy Hennings whose poetry I like!