Secrets and Light catalog essay for Donnie Molls exhibit
Carl Berg Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
May, 2005

In Joan Didion’s essay “Notes from a Native Daughter” she remarks on the ever changing experience of California as “a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work out here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”

It is the American Dream addressing its own mortality.

Donnie Molls current series of paintings, Abandoned Dreams, are thick with that uneasy suspension. Here are portraits of desolate buildings in ghosted places where things had not seemed to “work out here”, but still these melancholy little creatures reach out. Come take a closer look, I may have a secret to tell you. And then, somewhat shyly, the public spaces such as Coin Laundry or La Loma offer up fragments of text the viewer can use to piece together a story of the scene. The private spaces, however, seem ever so much more tragic, easier to determine as already fallen like an Icarus. The bright yellows and oranges surrounding them seem the sun that burned the wax wings off that fallen dreamer.

Molls makes very deliberate choices in material and format to reflect on time and our place in it. These works are all oil paint on panel. Oils are that bastion of all things well preserved, standing against the more temporal medium of photography. Molls is an accomplished photographer, and he could have well done these portraits through photography. But oils preserve the buildings in a physical and psychic way that photography just can’t. His determined use of color to exaggerate mise-en-scene is very specific. Besides the ochres of Western Drive-In or Lotaburger, in numerous works we are offered “the blues” of a sad song perhaps, and the periwinkles of twilight descending. The shadows, if they exist at all, are exceedingly short, indicating a midday sun beating down. This would seem to point to a life with much left to it. But Molls also uses a deep vanishing point, exaggerating the perspective to allude to the end of the line. The horizon lines are unnaturally high, creating a sense of treading in chin deep water to probably no successful end. They also allude to the infinite.

A thoughtful viewer, once they have pondered the specific buildings, begins to wonder what of the caretakers that originally constructed these sites? What of the dreams those pioneers must have had of a new town, a new start, a new self. These towns were all once hoped to be a new paradise. But now, fallen, they reflect more on our own mortal fallible selves.

It is this sense of the self and the self’s place in community that these paintings seem to best address. Each portrait gives a chance to place oneself in the scene, ponder our experience of it, and to breathe deep as we find our own lives’ brevity so well documented.