Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I had my first formal art class in 1972 as an undergraduate student at Staten Island Community College. The instructor was William Beckman, and I remember, when looking at the anatomy of the foot I was drawing, he remarked, “nice socks”. We all started somewhere.
The following summer I hitchhiked my way around Europe and spent a great deal of time alone in museums. While in Amsterdam at the Rijksmuseum I saw a short film entitled “Masters Of Light” which enthralled me. An hour or so later I was standing in front of Vermeer’s “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”, and gazing at that stunning painting I said aloud, “I’m going to be a painter”, it was a life changing afternoon.
I returned home and then attended Richmond College in Staten Island for my third and fourth years of study as an undergraduate. At Richmond College I studied with Arthur Levine, Pat Passlof, and Lennart Anderson. They were all very encouraging to me, and Lennart, urged me to apply for graduate school at Brooklyn College. Lennart mentioned that in the following year he would be joining the faculty at Brooklyn College. I was accepted at Brooklyn and studied with Lennart for another two years. Brooklyn College, with its extraordinary faculty and fellow students was an experience that transformed my life and career.
After receiving my MFA I set up my first art studio in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn with many former Pratt Institute and Brooklyn College grads as neighbors. We had a weekly figure drawing session for several years and I continued my work on still life, portrait heads, and landscape. In 1982 I obtained my first teaching position, as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. It was in Maine that I really started focusing on landscape painting and began traveling abroad to paint landscapes.
In 1988 I started a new position as an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I spent every summer traveling to paint landscape during these years. In 1998 I became the Head of Painting and Drawing at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan. I shifted my focus to more drawings and a much larger and more ambitious figure piece at this time.
Although I never lost my passion for teaching in the studio classroom, other critical events in my life led me to decide to retire from teaching and I resigned my position in 2012.
I now spend all my time in my studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
As I always have, I still visit family and friends in Brooklyn once or twice a year.
Lists of exhibitions, grants, and awards can be seen in my attached CV.
Art News, May 1993, Volume 92 Number 5
Review of Kevin Donahue at Prince Street Gallery by Jonathan Goodman
This small show , consisting almost entirely of landscapes, displays Kevin Donahue’s ongoing, and skillful, representation of both natural and man made forms. The artist, who is based in Michigan, has traveled to such places as Sonoma County in California, Nauplion in Greece, and Crete, defining the effects of light and heat on rocks and water, building and trees. His simple compositions and small format result in a precise rendering of views whose lyricism is innate and engaging.
Donahue’s Mediterranean paintings appear powerfully precise from a distance. Close up, however, they tend to meld into patches of pure color. Despite the artist’s exacting standards, or perhaps because of them, the paintings nudge towards abstraction. The foliage of the trees in particular possesses an aura that imbues his landscapes with an ethereal quality. It is not what one would expect, at first glance, from such “realist” works.
Architecture plays an important role in anchoring theses well-considered compositions. Buildings are rendered not only for their detail but also as a way of directing the eye. In Long Ago and Not So Far Away, the artist’s preoccupation with light is happily brought into relief by its effect on the forms he is painting: the dark green of the trees in the foreground is balanced by the blue-white cloud forms above the distant mountains, whose tan and blue-browns literally portray a middle ground.
Equally strong are the meticulously painted city scenes of Nauplion, Greece: the sun washed streets lead the eye across yellow-tan buildings whose details have been noticed and remembered. In Orehoss, Polee Orehoss, a beautiful tree’s deep green meets a house’s muted yellows and reds. Donahue captures the late afternoon, that point in time when light and shadow are perfectly balanced, neither giving way. –Jonathan Goodman
COVER MAGAZINE Arts New York, February,1991 Volume 5, Number 2
Review of Kevin Donahue at Prince Street Gallery
Kevin Donahue is a painter who delights in light. He understands how light gives form to the visible world, and is sensitive to its nuance and color. Donahue is interested in illumination for its own sake, and he recognizes that light also implies a state of mind. Think of phrases like “the Age of Enlightenment,” and the Light of Pure Reason.”
Donahue depicts the Mediterranean summer, and I must confess that his Greek landscapes and weather look especially attractive in the midst of Manhattan’s gray winter. Deliberately, the artist has set out to paint a perfect place at the perfect time. Sun-struck plaster and blue sky are favorite motifs, and placid azure seas are the backdrop of choice. People are absent in his paintings, but their presence is implied by their artifacts: parked cars, pruned trees, an eclectic mix of old and new architecture, and street signs that helpfully direct our eye back into the painting’s neatly arranged compositional patterns. In sum, there is the sense of a golden moment that is often divided according to the time-honored geometry of the Golden Section,
The pleasures of the result often belie the rigors of the artist’s process. Donahue works on site for weeks on the same pictures, choosing the morning hours for one small canvas, and then switching panels for a shot at the afternoon light. Reticular grids and preliminary charcoal drawings on canvas precede many coats of oil paint that are built layer upon layer into a thin but luminous surface.
Befitting the lucidity that we associate with Greek thought,Donahue favors clarity. There is just a hint of haze present in these delicately painted oils, so that objects in the distance are muted but distinctly recognizable. Textural change and atmospheric perspective create a convincing sense space, and this illusion of depth is essential. As Aldous Huxley observed in “Landscape as a Vision Inducing Art,” deep space encourages deep thought.
These small, labor-intensive paintings have a visual authority that assures us about their accuracy. We’re convinced that the artist has truthfully recorded his model. Because we believe the specifics, we are willing to muse about the larger issue: the painter’s resolute effort to capture fleeting light in a timeless place, a land where history and myth can’t be separated. Donahue’s subjects and his meticulous realism invite us to speculate about perfection and transience, opposite concepts that are necessarily interlinked, like dark and light. – GH