CHERYL DONEGAN FINDS INSPIRATION IN UNEXPECTED CORNERS OF THE CITY
Accessible either through the chaotic, plant-lined sidewalks of the Flower District or Flatiron’s lunch hour business crowd, Cheryl Donegan’s East Chelsea home studio encapsulates her expansive artistic vision. A video artist and abstract painter of more than two decades, Donegan has been traveling extensively in the last few years due to righteously growing interest for her work. Her recent venture into fashion design gives the Connecticut-born and New York-made artist the opportunity to expand her visual repertoire. After successful solo exhibitions at Lower East Side’s New Museum and Kunsthalle Zurich, Donegan recently opened an exhibition, titled GRLZ + VEILS, at the Aspen Art Museum, which will be followed by another solo presentation at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in early 2019.
Donegan, who moved to New York in the mid-1980s, during SoHo’s rise as an art mecca, lives at her current home studio with her husband and two children. Her neatly-organized workspace, where a few of her paintings hang on a wall next to photographs of mannequins and a series of sketches, is adjacent to her spacious apartment—a convenience which can also impose a challenge to go out and explore after hours of working. Witnessing different transformations the city has faced over the years, the artist is full of interesting anecdotes about her relationship with the city which provides endless sources of inspiration.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you cross paths with fashion design after years of painting and film-making?
Cheryl Donegan: I knew the brother and sister duo who founded New York-based company Print All Over Me through my husband, who knew about their print-on-demand garment business. When I began transferring my gingham prints onto garments, a new door opened in terms of the intersection of photography, painting, computer technology, and textiles.
You have a very inspirational and spacious studio. How often are you here?
CD: Any work I do with garments comes out of my practice in this studio, where I start with laying scraps on fabric on the scanner and rearranging them into drawings, which eventually all relate to my paintings.
Can you tell us about the patterns on your recent paintings and garments that stem from graffiti that you saw on air conditioner grills?
CD: I’ve always had an eye for scratchy looks. I’ve had my eye on those A.C. grills sticking out from windows across the city. Kids scratch into them with sharpies from top to bottom against the horizontal lines. The results can be really beautiful. This neighborhood is a mix of industrial and lush streets, so I can run into inspirational elements at any moment. Between Madison Square Park and Midtown, I go through very different faces of the city, which makes me feel lucky. I just need to leave my studio more often. There’s a pizza place on Sixth Avenue that plays the best music.
How has New York changed over the years in terms of being a creative force?
CD: I’ve been lucky with living conditions. When we first moved here in the ’80s, we found a place on the Lower East Side, which I could afford by waiting tables. We’ve lived in this part of Chelsea since 1997, and surprisingly it hasn’t changed drastically over the years.
What are your favorite hang-out spots?
CD: We’ve been here so long that we hold onto old school places. There’s a restaurant on Bowery called Great NY Noodletown—it’s the best place. Don’t go for the atmosphere or the service, but go for the great food. My husband and I take late night walks when the city settles down. We pick a direction and just walk. We tend to appreciate architecture better late at night when no one is around. Morgan Library, which is around the corner, is another place I love to go, as well as The Met Breuer. We go to Grand Central Oyster Bar for its clam chowder. We used to go to El Quijote inside the Chelsea Hotel until it sadly closed last year. That was our favorite place. The atmosphere with terracotta murals was amazing.
Words Osman Can Yerebakan
Photography Sally Griffiths