By D. Eric Bookhardt
January/February 1997; pg 56
Donna Service, TRANSPLANT
Delgado College Gallery
New Orleans, LA
Ever since the late 1960s ushered in an abrupt reappraisal of
traditional values and gender roles - not to mention sex, drugs, and
rock 'n' roll - people have struggled to make sense of it all. And
while the reappraisal continues, some of the old 1960s ideals of
race, gender, and ecological consciousness have quietly become
entrenched, internalized by the American people even as they still
agonize over the details.
Much of this occurs at a deep psychological level - a point at
which art can function as the catalyst that challenges viewers to
make those inner leaps, to change the settings of their psyche at
the deep, nonverbal level inhabited by their feelings. The
exhibition of Donna Service's mixed media art works was a case in
point, a provocative rumination on gender that some may have
found disturbing despite its good humored, if ironic, tone. And
while it deals with women and nature and the sexuality intrinsic
to both, it contained none of the recrimination so often attending
doctrinaire gender art in the past.
Service's work falls into three groups. The largest pieces include
towering tree-women fabric sculptures with female lower halves
and upper torsos like crepe myrtles, who share their spaces with
affable snakes and wry woodpeckers who slither or peck,
respectively. Also included are some tree-men, fiberous outdoor
types who exist only from their hulking feet to their waists, at
which point they abruptly end. Avian lewdness and suggestive
symbols abound in a setting like some slapstick Garden of Eden
choreographed by Freud, Joseph Campbell, and Laurel and Hardy
(with input from the pre-Socratic Greeks).
Another group includes some rather straight-up rice paper prints
of swooping woodpeckers ravishing acorns in mid-flight, and
other, more suggestive images of botanical female anatomy,
aboreal private parts and such. All of which brings us to the
surreal and often explicit drawings that caused Delgado College to
very nearly cancel the show. (A state junior college, Delgado
provides career training to a diversely ethnic student body.)
These are dreamlike evocations of the feminine psyche in
situations suggestive of the mysteries that underlie everyday life.
I Play the Game and I Know It is emblematic (though not as
graphic as some). Here, a cat-woman stands, frankly nude and
pink, in a green room with red curtains. She has a hairy tail and
ears, among other things, and long black claws on her toes and
fingers. She just stands there, holding a limp black bra - like
evidence - in her outstretched talons, and the net effect is candid
though not contrite, conveying the irony of the eternal gender
games as they are now played. Instead of sermonizing, the image
invites us to see its double-edged psychic depth and complexity.
This is how Service sets off synapses in the more remote regions
of the brain, making one come to terms with her feminine persona
and, worst of all, with ourselves, through our reactions.
Wonderfully disorienting stuff.
THE TIMES; Living Section
Bring A Sense of Humor to Tower Gallery
by JoAnne Harris
July 27, 1999
Donna Service, BODY BOX AND OTHER ODDITIES
The Tower Galler, Shreveport, LA
Tucked away in the farthest corner of The Tower Gallery is what is surely the
wildest, wackiest and most wonderful art exhibit to be seen locally this
summer. "The Body Box and Other Oddities," featuring works by Donna
Service is indeed sublimely odd, offbeat and often outrageous.
For a brief background, Service is a local artist who manages to stay involved up
to her earlobes in all sorts of community art activities. She [operates] the Renzi
Education and Art [Center], providing tutoring and creative opportunities for
inner-city and under-privileged children and youth. All that, and she still finds
time to create her own distinctive style of art.
Of the 20 pieces shown here, seven are drawings in graphite or prismacolor. All
are figure studies of a female seen variously as a goddess, mother or mythic
being. Each piece includes various natural or mystical motifs that symbolize
fertility, nurturing or spirituality. All are rendered realistically with a
somewhat cool, detached style, often suggesting textbook illustrations.
The contrast could not be greater between these pieces and the other 13 works
on display. Here, we have three-dimensional puppet-like soft sculptures that
are flamboyantly unlike anything Mother Nature ever produced. Ranging in
size from approximately 18 inches to 8 feet in height, each piece makes a token
reference to something like a humanoid shape. There is, at least, a torso, a head,
upper and lower extremities and sexual appendages. The rest is sheer fantasy.
Again, numerous motifs from the natural world can be noted. Bird beaks and
wings are plentiful. Leafy twigs sprout from all manner of places. Lush
flowers blossom here and there. None of the figures possess anything so
mundane as human hands and feet. In their place are a fascinating variety of
bird feet, claws, flippers and tentacles. Some figures have tails. Many have
only one cyclopean eye or multiple eyes scattered about the body. This is
really some weird stuff.
There is much gender-bending here, too. Many figures possess the attributes of
both sexes, making it next to impossible to identify most of them as one or the
other. Plus, the attributes are almost always ridiculous in size and number.
Even more fantastic is the range of materials used, plus the methods of
construction. Fabrics of the richest sort - velvets, satins, laces, lames,
embroideries, leathers - provide the body or ground of each figure. Colors are
bright and glittery, always used in brilliant contrast. Then come the
embellishments - beads, buttons, feathers, furs, metallic threads and more
Please note that these are not just slapped together with a little hot glue and the
staple gun. Each of these constructions is meticulously sewn, most if not all by
hand. Every bead, sequin or other tiny decoration is likewise attached by
needle and thread. Take it from one who has sewn her share of stuffed dolls
and animals, the workmanship displayed here is far, far beyond that of the
average seamstress. Yea, this is art.
The inevitable question of course, is what does it all mean? Service herself
would probably reply, "It means what you want it to mean." As to what she
means, we can easily surmise that she is quite simply celebrating life in all of its
variations - spirituality, motherhood, sexuality. She takes a playful attitude
toward the immense possibilities of nature and emphasizes the unity between
man and all of creation.
1997 Visual Artist Fellowship Award
Comments by juror Lynn Herbert, Associate Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston.
In the juror's statement, Herbert states of Service's work: "Donna Service brings together a wide array of materials, some of which are very
humble, to make, of all things, stuffed dolls and trees. With these relatively quirky figures, she explores ideas with great exuberance and
confidence. From large scale installations to smaller more intimate pieces, there is a playfulness to the work that makes them very inviting,
encouraging viewers to enter the realm of metaphoric possibilities. Classical subject such as Adam and Eve in From the Earth, manage to sit
alongside more personal and over-the-top figures like Mydonna and the Blessed Manshark. Perhaps the most impressive work is Transplant, a
large multi-pieced installation rich in detail and craftsmanship. With its expressive trees standing amidst bodiless legs and nests, Transplant
provides an abundance of food for thought."