Experiencing art alongside Donato during gallery visits was insightful, entertaining and sometimes a bit ribald. His work was playful, mysterious, sometimes ominous. Artist and VCU colleague Richard Roth wrote:
“Donato’s source material is clearly other art, but he has a non-hierarchical interest in everything visual. He’ll look with equal seriousness at Piero della Francesca, Guston, a student drawing, and images from vernacular and popular culture. He also freely appropriates passages and images from painting’s history and material culture at large.
"Donato is not a theoretical painter — he stays open to new input and tuned in to his own psyche — he remains fluid.”
A public "Celebration of Donato" is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 21, 3 p.m., at the Plant Zero Arts Center.
Jerry and Joan’s section of the Pollak feature is reproduced below.
Painting is Like Dancing: Gerald Donato and Joan Gaustad
The selectors said: Once in a while people leave indelible marks on a community that reverberate like shockwaves. Such is the case with Gerald Donato and Joan Gaustad. They met in 1970; Jerry was a new professor at VCU’s School of the Arts; Joan, a new Richmond transplant by way of Bangkok. They fell in love in Bruton Parish Cemetery in Williamsburg. From that day on, they have been inseparable. Forging a 37-year trail in the arts community, their individual work has been the focus of national and international exhibitions, and once they exhibited together at 1708. Following his retirement, Donato had a grand retrospective at VCU’s Anderson Gallery.
The 1999 exhibition by two artists at the 1708 gallery was called “Connection,” but most people called it the Joan and Jerry Show.
This couple’s life together has evolved into one long and transmuting exhibition. They held parties, but they always made work, though they didn’t pursue selling their work. Today’s gallery scene searches for the rock star. Donato became one, but without the pretense.
Donato and Gaustad go together like paint on a palette — he with his Chi-town brio and big laughter and she with her refined and feline grace. They set up housekeeping and dual studios on West Main Street in 1977 when that part of the Fan was dicey business. But artists imagine ahead.
“You just go through life doing what you do,” Gaustad says. “We both started out with normal art aspirations. To make work, to get a gallery in New York.”
In those early days, Gaustad was strong in her urging that Donato push for a big New York gallery. They had words about this subject in the street before going to a party there. Donato wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm. Gaustad at last said, “You don’t really want this, do you?”
“No,” Donato said, with a shrug. “I will have made the work whether it’s shown here or not.”
That settled it, and they went to the party.
At their home/studios, Donato made a lair, and Gaustad took the upstairs, with open floor space, so she could walk back and see the work at a distance, then get closer, in a creator’s waltz.
“Painting is like dancing,” Gaustad says.
Donato explains, “It’s curiosity. You’re finding out where it’s going.”