During the Pandemic: A Conversation with Donna Hamil Talman, CM

By admin on July 30, 2020

Written by: Francesca Sinnott


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Pictured: Donna Hamil Talman, CM

A conversation with Copley Master and abstract artist Donna Hamil Talman is uplifting and restorative, and presents a woman who is well read and sensitive to the world around her. Donna uses her art to bring awareness of, “the way that life and land evolves and the ecological issues” of our planet.  She is also a psychotherapist. This informs her work with profound empathy. “I believe that change becomes possible the more aware that you are of your actions and your behavior.“ Donna has been with Co|So since 2001 and values the organization’s esteemed reputation and how it has exposed her work to a variety of audiences, providing helpful insights on how people view her art.

“In a way, the pandemic has been an extraordinary gift; almost like an artist’s in residency in my own studio. Because I still work as a psychotherapist, I typically struggle to carve out time for my art. However the pandemic has enabled me to spend more time on my art.  So, at the beginning of our isolation (March), I disappeared happily in to my studio” to create the series that I submitted to the Co|So Summer Members Show.

“When one thinks about the long-term consequences of waste pollution and now the pandemic, it can all seem pretty hopeless. I had read about organic solutions that were being discovered to deal with micro-plastic waste, including a fungus and a jellyfish-like creature that eat plastic”. So during this time, rather than focus on the negative, “I decided to create encaustic art that focuses on positive solutions”.  The process of creating this triptych, “Making a Song of It”, was a “freeing experience for me”. I intentionally created “light hearted” work with “colors that calm” the soul. “ I felt the work invoked flow and movement, like the ocean in the wind, at a time when the world outside my window was stopped or should have been. Encaustic, with its flow, is the perfect medium for this”.

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Pictured: Making a Song of It, Encaustic on Panel, 36×12”

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Pictured: Such a Morning 2a, Encaustic on Panel, 12×12”

Donna shares with me a brief history of encaustic art, providing deeper meaning to the medium.  “Encaustic was first used by the Ancient Greeks to seal their ships and preceded oils as a medium; it was later used by the Egyptians in the late 1st Century B.C. to create the Fayum mummy portraits”. She explains how these ancient portraits are extraordinarily well preserved because these materials do not degrade in color.

Donna’s subject matter covers both land and sea. Her land work captures the geological processes and the movement of molten rock. “Perhaps because I grew up on a ranch in Colorado, I was always interested in geology. My encaustic materials flow like the earth and work in my abstractions”.  This series she painted in 2012 shows the movement of the Andes Path in Peru.

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Pictured: Sentieri Trascendentali #15,  Mixed Media, 28×22”

“Ten years ago I was searching for new meaning in my art and I became very interested in the environment.  One summer I began to make abstract encaustic monotypes using representations of the trash that I saw on the Cape Code beaches. I was also reading about the plastic problem in our oceans. A few years later, while in Italy on an artist in residence program, I came across discarded fishing nests and trash on the beaches. I put the net or the crushed coke can on the paper and use ink to create imprints”. The ghostly effect of Donna’s monotypes provides a haunting reminder of humanity’s indiscretions. Donna cites artist Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, as someone she admires for his complex installations, similarly transforming simple materials in to beautiful art.

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Pictured: Slow Fade, encaustic monotype, ink, pencil, oil pastels on Kitakata paper, 33×22” 

Donna started out as an experimental photographer. Unable to obtain an advanced art degree because of health challenges from lupus, she took workshops in “alternative photography” and became part of a collaborative group of woman artists in Worchester known as the “Art XII”.  She says fondly, “These women were incredibly generous in sharing their knowledge”. Her studio was the dark room and she did not use a camera. She created large gelatin silver photograms with her DNA/Body Series.

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Pictured: Woman #2, Silver Print, 48×20”

Unfortunately with the 2008 recession, she was forced to explore other media and discovered encaustic. “I put wax on photographs and I loved how it gave the photos a vintage appearance while not requiring require framing or glass”. I became taken by the “sensual and tactile qualities of the wax”.  “The colors were more vibrant, would not degrade like other media or be toxic to the environment”.

Her advice to young artists, “get to the studio as much as you can. Even when you’re not flowing, just being there helps”. “Struggling with a chronic illness has given me perspective on my work and the realization that it is a process that ebbs and flows and not to worry about the little things”.