An artist may take years to develop his or her voice. How that voice develops is at heart a mystery, and yet certain aspects of the journey are consistent: The artist must be sensitive to the outside environment and to his or her own reflective experience of it — for these are the elements that inform one’s artistic voice. Combine this with education, talent and persistence, and an artist potentially has what it takes to carve out a niche as a successful artist and build on his or her success for years to come. John J Domont says he began his art career as a “12-year-old novice photographer.” Today, he says, he is a “53-year-old artist.” Domont, who is a native to Indianapolis but traveled the world as a photographer for environmental protection organizations and lived in California, New Mexico and Maine, returned home after his adventures to pursue painting. Domont has been painting here ever since — earning a name for himself primarily as a painter of landscapes; but he’s also known for his brilliant florals of poppies and irises, as well as his spiritually conceived begging bowls. While honing his artistic voice, Domont runs Domont Studio Gallery and shows his own work alongside that of other mid-career to established regional and national artists, broadening his scope to include more substantive exhibitions of other artists. When Domont was invited to mount a mid-career retrospective of his own work at the Swope Museum in Terre Haute, Ind., last year, it was clear that he had “arrived” beyond the level of a mature artist who simply toils along creating lovely, refined landscapes that are largely accessible to the well-heeled, traditional art-buying crowd. Domont’s last two exhibitions, A Perfect Place: New Paintings by John J Domont and Continuation: Contemporary Landscapes and Begging Bowls, held consecutively last summer, are both a curious departure and a return to the imagery for which he is best known — and yet they renew the authenticity of his outwardly straightforward vision. Domont still cares deeply about the world, and yet he paints seemingly docile, lovely pictures. After traveling to China and Nepal as part of a Creative Renewal Fellowship in 2002, Domont’s work appeared to transform from sweeping if flat landscapes with idyllic barns and fields to towering mountains and plunging river gorges, eventually leading him to nearly complete abstraction. But Domont returned to the placid Indiana countryside — his colors a little brighter, if that’s possible, the light emanating from the canvas even more startling. As Domont himself says, “I’m a one note guy with variations.” Domont’s recent work affirms the notion, and yet offers something more. The colors, as always, are so brilliant, even impossible, as to appear incongruous, almost jarring. Upon second and third glance, though, the opposite happens: The colors lull one into a kaleidoscopic nirvana of pastoral bliss. It’s as if Domont has reached so far beyond impressionism as to reinterpret it. Certainly, Domont plays up color so that it serves his images with fiery light, but the colors somehow hold their own without being saccharine. In “Crayola Cathedral #2,” a traditional barn is rendered with a deep blue roof and red and orange exterior walls. The colors are primary and yet complex; it’s the layering beneath them that breathes light and life into them. Likewise, in “Morning Warmth,” a bank of purple trees does not pretend realism. Autumn trees can truly look purple in the light. As Domont says, referring to another painting, “You go out and see a bean field this time of year and it’s that color. I don’t make these things up.” Somehow, though, one gets the sense there’s more to it than that. Domont may not be capable of not bringing a lot more to the palette than meets the eye; and his begging bowls, another signature Domont image, certainly reflect the artist’s deeper pools of aesthetic pondering. “For me to do a begging bowl,” Domont says, “they have to come from an internal place.” Certainly, the colors here are more muted, but possibly even more complex. The burnished russets and burgundies that comprise the bowls, rendered almost as large as Domont’s landscapes, speak to the artist’s versatility. Domont is, put plainly, a contemplative guy — whether it’s expressed as a golden-hued vessel or a sunlit barn. Domont has also taken on the challenge of reproducing many of his signature images into limited edition prints — a challenge because of the importance of color, both in terms of aesthetic authenticity and the inherent symbolic value of Domont’s visually layered choices. One can purchase Domont prints, for example, at his gallery as well as the Indiana State Museum, where his work is also included in the museum’s permanent collection of Indiana artists. For many artists, reproducing one’s work as prints becomes a marketing decision, a way of making one’s art accessible to a potentially larger buying public. But Domont takes pride in producing his own prints, ensuring their authenticity and as artistic expression in and of itself. “All my work is talking about, look how beautiful it is here,” Domont says, ever philosophical. But the artist acknowledges the other side to this beauty — or rather, the difficulty in getting to that place of acknowledgment. “The rewards come from interpreting pain, coming through a pattern of denial … forget behavior. It is important how we behave but it’s more important we talk about what’s choking us all.” Domont makes the argument that his art addresses this by taking us deeper, beyond the potentially superficial notion of beauty. And there is plenty of art with this intent only. Of his own paintings, Domont explains, “They’re just really my offerings for being here. My whole story is about gratitude.” One gets the sense, though, that Domont realizes the irony of his past and present, the years spent chronicling the human destruction of natural habitats for organizations such as Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife. These Indiana landscapes instead idealize the expanses of farmland that are giving way to strip malls and housing developments as the family farm disappears. Domont, though, reminds us what is still there. Perhaps that’s why Domont delves deeper, as if realizing that the nature of the planet’s ills begin within our psyche — collectively and individually. Domont’s “Journeys” series speaks to that more introspective, symbolic space. “I love portals,” Domont relates. “The ‘Journeys’ series has this feminine receptacle in it. It’s [about] walking through or into this moment. It’s walking on into your own self … being willing to trust rather than fear. Being willing to allow life to infuse you into each moment of possibility.” Domont’s “Journeys” paintings depict ethereal space: a misty background rendered in tempered whites with subtle threads of purple and gold, or even red, form the background. A gate stands tall with an open top, as if to suggest no boundary between heaven and earth. In one painting, a lone flower hovers in the doorway, a symbol of life’s temporal quality, perhaps, which equally suggests eternity. In another painting, an adult and child move through the portal, the adult guiding the child. The figures are anonymous; again, suggestive of symbol. Domont hasn’t been known to paint figures since his clown series years ago. But even these had a spiritual element to them: When the artist maintained his studio and gallery in the Faris Building (long since renovated into Eli Lilly & Co. office space), Domont conveyed the inner life of the clown both for its metaphorical and documentary possibilities. Clowns, too, have a collective psyche: the loneliness behind the mask and, equally, their reverence for the mundane. Domont’s clowns were as brilliantly rendered as his landscapes, and equally suggestive of their depth. Now Domont trains his brush almost exclusively towards five ongoing bodies of work: landscapes, wilderness paintings, florals, begging bowls and his most recent “Journeys” series. The dramatic landscapes inspired by his travels to the East seem to have confirmed an already Buddhist bent. Domont’s paintings are like Zen koans: deceptively straightforward but suggestive of deeper spiritual meaning. But we have to work to get there, as we are often fooled by our own initial perceptions. Domont knows what ails us, and doesn’t ignore it — but ironically draws our attention to it by reminding us that indeed, there’s beauty all around if we only open our eyes to its possibility. “This moment is richer than any fantasy or possibility that anybody could come up with,” he offers. “This moment is more pregnant, is more fertile, is more ripe. So that’s what my work is about.”
The Domont Studio Gallery is located at 545 S. East St. Phone is 317-685-9634. Following is a schedule of shows that will be appearing in the gallery in the coming weeks. • Dec. 2-4: Shapes, new work by Jennifer Complo-McNutt These works are abstractions from life and the landscape. The large-scale drawings and monotypes are an exploration of light, gravity and scale. • Dec. 10-Jan. 8: Exploring The Madonna by Magdalena Segovia Oil and egg tempera paintings by Latino artist Magdalena are a contemporary expression of the way women relate to love and their loved ones. • Jan. 14-29: Immense and Intense by Sam Sartorius, paintings inspired by the Czech Republic Immense and Intense is about the collective grandeur of experiences and the intensity of each one. Her abstract paintings combine imagination and color in a dreamlike world, which unfolds a storybook narrative from particular moments, emotions or interactions with non-English persons. Immersing oneself wholly in a foreign culture has a way of liberating thoughts that lead to a wide-open perspective. Artist’s reception Jan. 14, 2005, from 5-9 p.m.