Madeline Donahue

The recent birth of my child has directed me to explore the body, human fears, imperfections, and the mystery and awkwardness of sexual expression. I create figurative forms, humorously posed and ornamented with physical features of childbirth and aging. Water is a recurring feature in my work. Growing up on the hot humid Gulf Coast of Texas without air conditioning, water of any kind was a sign of relief and potential threat. I spent much of my time on the beach, in a pool, or running in a sprinkler to keep cool. My body was thus exposed for most of my childhood. I was always sunburned. My body was critiqued. At the same time, warnings of flood, hurricane or riptide echoed in my ears. My current work parallels these experiences to the recent changes in my body from aging and childbirth. I am interested in the value of a body that is visually imperfect by cultural standards. Much of my work is in direct response to classic art-historical bather motifs as well as idealized female forms found on the internet and in social media posts.  

Each artwork begins as a drawing. Sometimes the drawing is a finished object but often I draw to work through ideas that inform the painting or sculpture. All of the objects drawings, paintings and sculpturesare related and work together. My preliminary drawings are fast and gestural and my goal is to keep all of my work congruous with unreserved freedom. As a rule, I work from memory without photographic reference materials. When I create, it is important that I pull imagery from my memory and imagination working quickly from my mind and my drawings. I trust myself: I have been alive long enough to paint, draw, sculpt from my mind. Working this way allows me to respond to the world without a need to connect to all consuming technology. I work against distraction and boredom in the studio and thrive on finding thrill in my process.

My ceramic sculptures are crafted from slab drawings then collaged into three-dimensional objects. I paint canvases and sculpt ceramic pieces at the same time. When one piece needs time to dry, I work on the other. Rather than making arbitrary marks and shapes to indicate shadow and form, I make marks that describe physical features indicating changes in the body from age and childbirth: pendulous breasts with stretched nipples, sun damage, cellulite, sagging skin, graying hair. My work is approachable and my color choices are bright and comical.

My paintings are approximately the size of my body. Because my paintings are gestural and need space to be performed, large canvases give me room to paint freely. I accept the potential imperfections of the relationship between my body and my materials. I complete each work in one day, which keeps the piece from becoming stale and overworked. Working this way keeps ideas as fresh as my technique and I can respond to impulse, emotions and current events without hesitation.


2018 MFA Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
2006 BFA Tufts University & The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Select Exhibitions

2018 (Upcoming) Catch as Catch Can, Spaceworks, Brooklyn, NY
If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash, 601Artspace, New York, NY
A World of People, Underdonk, Brooklyn, NY
Respond BC!, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

2017 MFA 2nd Year Exhibition, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
Entre Nous, 5410 Gallery, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
Soft Animal, BE FLUENT NYC, New York, NY
Respond BC!, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

2016 Premonitions, Lutheran Church of the Messiah, Brooklyn, NY

2015 Kaleidascape, Public, North Adams, MA
Art Around, West End, Hartford, CT

2014 Poster Child, Bushwick Print Lab, Queens, NY
The End, The Beginning Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Still Life, Wondering Around Wandering, Brooklyn, NY
Portrait, Artypes Space, Brooklyn, NY

Prizes and Awards

2018 Brooklyn College Art Department Professional Development Fund Award
2017-2018 Brooklyn College Graduate Art Student Union President
2017 Brooklyn College Professional Development Fund Award
2005 SMFA Returning Student Grant
2004 SMFA Annual Print + Paper Show Award
2001‐2005 SMFA Shelly Merit Award
2001‐2005 SMFA Crawford Merit Award

Residencies and Fellowships

2018 Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, Summer Artist in Residence, Woodstock, NY
2017‐2018 Brooklyn College Graduate Teaching Fellowship


2018 Brooklyn College MFA Thesis Exhibition: If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. Brooklyn College Department of Art, 2018.

2017 ArtMAZE Mag: Issue 5, Anniversary Edition. ArtMAZE Mag, 2017.


2018 Small, Zachary. “Taking a Millennial Approach at Brooklyn College’s MFA Spring 2018 Thesis Show.” Hyperallergic. May 28 2018.

Teaching Experience
2018 Basic Design, Drawing and Color, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY