Continuing through May 10, 2011
This past winter, while pondering what to do for his upcoming exhibition, Albuquerque artist David Leigh happened to be reading about Tamsen Donner, wife of George of the infamous Donner-Reed Party. These days, the phrase "Donner Party" is shorthand for an unrelenting series of bad choices that lead to disaster. In their attempt to survive passage through the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the middle of an especially cruel winter these pioneers turned to cannibalism. About half of the party survived to settle in California.
To take one of our deepest taboos and dare to make light of it would seem the act of an idiot, or at best, an idiot-savant. Leigh is a highly intelligent artist who works in a medium and style that suggest a sweet idiocy - that is until you really look at his work, mostly drawings of some sort. He's a reasonably normal young artist who doesn't rely on shock or spectacle to make an impression. For Leigh the subject of the Donner Party, transcribed into popular culture through Donna Reed of TV sitcom fame ("The Donna Reed Show" ran on ABC from 1958 to 1966), is not a cheap shot. Rather, as he sees it, it's a case of using what's in front of him to make his art, necessity being the mother of creativity. So he chose to name his exhibition "The Donna Party" because it's "funnier" than "The Donner Party;" he admits this with a crooked grin. Overall, the exhibition is reminiscent of Gericault's Romantic painting, "The Raft of the Medusa," not in style but in content: it is the stuff of wonder at the gruesomeness of surviving impossible odds.
Eileen Braziel Fine Arts