Written by Emma Gaines
Images courtesy of the artist
Donna Dereus is from Leesburg, Georgia and is a junior in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Columbus State University. Her concentration is traditional media with an emphasis on drawing. I met Donna at our student orientation and when we began art school, we went through the majority of our foundations classes together. I’ve been privileged to see Donna go from learning the basics of how to make and look at art to seeing her form her own artistic practice. I was very excited to hear Donna discuss the ins and outs of her work and am eager to share insights into the creator of art that is complex and rich with personal symbolism.
Q: Do you think being in Columbus has impacted your art?
A: Oh for sure. Coming from a smaller town it’s opened up my eyes to a lot more possibilities and general world broadening things. I lived in one place my entire life until I went to college and didn’t really travel anywhere outside of it, so being in a new community where you meet new people on the regular kind of opens your eyes a lot more, socially, but then in turn you’re also having space in your brain to do things more creatively. Also just being near the river is really nice.
Q: Do you have any goals you’re working towards during the next 2 years of school?
A: I’d like to have a few curation projects on my resume. Also, trying to make bigger landscape pieces because I feel like a lot of mine stay on paper.
Q: What about goals after school?
A: Right now I’m considering an internship with a tattoo studio. I think that would be really fun. I don’t think that I was meant for gallery work. If it happens it happens, but I don’t think that my work is methodical enough for gallery practice. I also like teaching because I do like to share my love for art with other people.
Q: Tell me about your artistic journey up until this point:
A: It’s the cliché “I’ve been drawing since I was four”. My mom was a graphic designer and she did classic prints and worked at a printing press. I had an artistic support system around me my whole life and my mom was always encouraging me to do art, so I think that’s where I got the head start for wanting to do an art career. I also grew up in her print shop and would run around and see the big inks and the pressing that they used to do and they run it off and put the layers on it. Just the process of creating art and seeing how happy it made people made me want to pursue art. I think that’s why I started doing more traditional work.
I’ve had blips there where I’ve been digital, but I think up until high school it was a lot of drawing. Being “that art kid” in school. Up until high school I worked it out that I wanted to be an artist. My high school art teacher, who had me from 10th grade all the way to 12th grade, was fresh out of college helped me decipher if I wanted to go to school or not for it and helped me pick colleges. So that was a big help.
I guess I got to college, and I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know I needed to learn. In high school I wanted to be an animation major because I was really interested in the shows I watched. Then when I got to college, I started off wanting to be a painting major, because I thought that I loved to paint. I do love to paint, but I thought that was my calling. It wasn’t. And then I had my first still life drawing class and that’s where I really loved to learn the intricacies of space that you couldn’t see and drawing around space. And I never noticed that you could learn how to spot that and do it. After doing that then it became gradually more like I needed it to be fine-tuned, and then I started doing more traditional work. And now I do stippling. All the time.
Q: Are there any other mediums that appeal to you?
A: A medium that’s been appealing to me, I guess because I’m taking a modern sculpture class, is sculpture, clay, and the concept of bringing 3D art to life. Sometimes I get frustrated because ideas that I want to replicate in drawing I feel would be so much better in 3D form. Especially because I feel like the emotion that I want packed into it I could let out while I create it. And that’s how I feel like a piece or an idea is completely finished. Because sometimes my finished pieces that I draw just feel like the blueprints for something that should be 3D.
Q: Describe your artistic process:
A: It usually starts in my notes app, or I’ll write something down, an idea that is a last minute section and I have to decipher what it means later. Since the process that I really like to use, stippling, takes a bit of time I’ll do a quick rough draft of what I generally want it to look like in a smaller sketchbook, then I’ll translate it onto a bigger sheet. That’s a basic process. But a more advanced process is I just start making it. I feel like if I get too caught up it’s very sudden, and if I really don’t like it and I care about it, then I’m not afraid of destroying it and trying again. If I really really like it, I don’t have a problem with breaking it and trying again.
Q: Most of your work is black and white, was there a point where you began doing that or realized that it was something you should lean into?
A: I think whenever I started getting into the fine detail stuff is whenever I just started doing the black and white things. Because I used to want to be a painting major and I used to be interested in color; a lot of different colors; neutrals, reds, and greens. Now I really like black and white; like an off white and a black because I feel like I can do more with that, and to some degree just because of what I like to do. If I venture off into any color now it will be red. But it’ll just be red, not mixed with black or white. It’s not even like colorful = happy, not colorful = not happy. I think that colorful work is just not the work that I’m making right now.
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
A: I want to work on more stippling. I do have a big curatorial class and that’s what’s taking up a lot of my time right now. We have 400 pieces that we’re curating from and you have to pick 25-30, and you have to research all of them. There’s about 15 students and you have to work to come up with a proposal for the curation. It’s from the Cochran collection in Lagrange. There’s going to be two exhibitions. Some of my classmates are interested in figurative work, but I kind of want to expand on the home, what it means to have home and how that pertains to your identity.
Q: Can you share more on the concept of home and why it appeals to you?
A: As I’m looking at the art pieces and researching a lot of the women artists, mostly African American artists, I was looking up their background, what they’d been through, and their stories. A lot of them find their identity in self-expression and being a woman in the times that they lived through: the 1900s, the Harlem Renaissance. A lot of the women working during this time are moving different areas, and they find different things that inspire them like nature around them, the interactions they have in their community.
A lot of these depictions are women depicting houses and security and it’s these bright colors. But then you also have these pieces like black and white Lino-prints. They’re just gorgeous but they have so much emotion in them. Not only depicting houses with a blatant “that’s home”, you also have these figurative works that represent some sort of idealistic body, but in some sense it’s comprised of all the things that make you you, and all the things that make you you is your home.
Q: Do you have a message that you’re trying to communicate through your art?
A: I usually show symbols of oneself, and how you decipher what makes you you, and the inner workings of the heart. Because a lot of art that I do is inspired by little blips, or little self-made haikus of rambled nonsense that have to do with loving yourself, or something about myself that is really silly, and then I characterize it in the work. I try to go into my individual psyche.
This one, the lungs: this side is luck and it has my two rings in it and then the other side is two people hugging each other, representing people relations, so it’s what helps keep me alive. I really like stuff that is unique to oneself so I kind of like to divulge into that a little bit.
I want other people to recognize that they’re just as individually complex and the innerworkings of themselves are equally as beautiful and deep as what I try to communicate from myself in my art. Even the style that I do, like the intricate details like stippling and the gradual effects I put into it, I feel like that also plays a part into how unique the thing that I’m trying to do is. I’m trying to make it set apart from other things. So I guess whenever people look at it I want them to understand that they are equally as capable of that unique characteristic and stylization.
Donna creates art that is compelling and purposeful. Her individual expression is a testament to the unifying power of art: how the celebration of individual complexities binds us all together and makes our shared human nature all the more beautiful.