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Inside The Studio: Donna Payton

Donna Payton's artistic journey is a rich amalgamation of influences, materials, and

insights. Drawing from the myriad of places she's called home and the salvaged items

that speak of histories only she can interpret, Payton crafts a narrative that's uniquely

hers. Her dance between painting and sculpture showcases an artist not bound by

medium but driven by a vision. As we venture further into her world, we discover an artist

deeply rooted in her craft, ever-evolving, and unafraid to challenge the boundaries of


The very fabric scraps that once fell to the studio floor now find themselves reincarnated

on her canvases, symbolizing a dance between her past and her present, bridging the

gap between traditional craft and contemporary art. This dance continues as she

oscillates between painting and sculpture, with one form often influencing and feeding

into the other. There's a rawness in her approach, drawing from fundamental shapes and

classical forms, yet punctuated with playful twists. As she stands at the threshold of

delving deeper into printmaking, we join Donna in her studio, a sanctuary echoing with

stories and anticipation, inviting us to unravel the nuances and inspirations behind her

compelling body of work.

Read on to learn more in this exclusive interview with Donna Payton:

Donna Payton in her studio

Since you have traveled and lived in many different places from Missouri, and LA, to Florida, was there one move in particular where you noticed a large change in your approach to your art?

The geographic areas in which I have lived have influenced my work. While I have always made paintings and sculptures from various materials, the gourd shape came into my artwork when I moved to New Jersey. Gourds are plentiful in farmers’ markets and when dried, I used them in sculptures and began drawing their forms. My latest series uses the smooth curved lines of the gourd and they become the striped images in my work. They signify the human form.

Your artist statement speaks of the histories and transformations of salvaged items. Can you share a memorable story or history behind one of your chosen materials?

One of my earliest memories of making art from discarded materials is when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I sat underneath my mother’s sewing machine as she sewed. I loved the rhythmic sound of the machine and the threads and scraps of fabric which fell to the floor. I took 2 pieces of colorful fabric, overlaid them with an offset and stitched them together with an outline of a pair of scissors.

Eye See, 2023 - Acrylic, pencil, googly eyes on fabric on panel, 66x46in

Can you talk about the significance of highlighting fundamental shapes and classical

forms in your work?

Fundamental shapes are shapes to which we can all relate. They give the viewer a starting

point to view less understandable images and abstract brushwork. Also, they are a visual

grounding place during the creation of the work; an energy area for response mark-making.

Classical forms add a seriousness to the work which I enjoy contrasting a comically sarcastic

twist in the antics of the forms.

Donna Payton’s studio

Your family's background in seamstress work and art is fascinating. Are there elements

or techniques from their craft that you've incorporated or been inspired by in your own


Since my mother was a seamstress and painter, I was around lots of fabrics and paints. I loved

going to fabric stores and still enjoy seeing all the variety. Fabrics are used in many of my

paintings and sculptures. I paint on fabric which is then glued to my canvases, and I cut out

shapes of fabric embedded in gloss medium which are then attached to mixed media works on

paper, canvas, or sculptural wooden supports.

Before the Leaves, 2023 - Collaged photograph, acrylic, paper, 35x28in

How do you approach the creative process when transitioning between different mediums, like sculpture to painting?

I like to make sculptures while I am painting. I have many sculptural forms around me as I

paint, and I will pause to put paint on the forms or glue some items or fabric. The sculptures grow

as the paintings develop. Often the sculpture will be hung over or displayed with a different

painting than the one on which I was simultaneously working.

Donna Payton’s studio

Can you share an experience with a piece that challenged you the most, and what did

you learn from it?

When challenged while working on a piece, I go to another piece. I always have several works

in varying stages of development and enjoy going from one to another when I am stumped in a

particular piece. The solution always comes when I tune in on another piece. Then,

clear-headed, I can go back to the problem piece and it just works out. I learned to relax and let

my creative energy flow by working on several pieces. Sometimes the solutions have come to

me in dreams.

Untitled, 2023 - Watercolor, pencil, colored pencil, 9x9in

Are there any specific artworks of yours that hold a particularly significant meaning to you, and can you share the story behind one of them?

I was feeling the pressure of caring for my mother recovering from an illness. She was being

particularly demanding and contrary, so I went to my room and quickly scratched out my

frustrations in a sketchbook. One of the sketches was enlarged for the painting

titled A Predicament. A bar at the neck is constricting the black and white striped figure, but not

making contact. In this predicament between duty and love, I laughed at myself and decided to

make the painting of cheerful colors and added the hanging sculpture as a ball of saving grace

and positive energy.

A Predicament, 2023 - Acrylic, bracket, beaded rope, hanging mixed media sculpture, 88X62X9in

Looking ahead, are there any new materials or techniques you're eager to explore in your

upcoming projects?

I plan to explore printmaking, specifically photo silkscreen and photolithography. Working on

paper, using these techniques and applying mixed media and collage will be exciting. Also, on

large panel paintings, I will silkscreen images which resonate with me such as pinwheels,

hourglasses, snowflakes, flying birds, turtles, dragonflies, and bees in the manner used by

Rauschenberg. I plan to underpaint with acrylics and over-paint with oil and oil sticks resulting

in more textural surfaces.

Who are some influential figures that have shaped your understanding of art, either/both past and present?

My assemblage sculptures have been inspired by works of Bettye Saar (with whom I studied at

Otis Institute of Art and Design), Donald Lipski, Italo Scanga, Isa Genzken and others. For my

drawings, I look to William Kentridge, Jim Dine’s sensuous charcoals and pastels of nudes and tools, Judy Pfaff’s early energetic line work and Picasso’s color. The drawn biomorphic forms

are my personal language inspired by Vasily Kandinsky, Joan Miro and early Jackson Pollock.

These forms represent humanity interacting within the power and energy of all life, divine and

mortal. My current inspiration has come from observing the reconfiguration of abstract painting’s

old tenets and newly invented shapes present in the works of Carrie Moyer, Charline Von Heyl,

Thomas Noskowski, Amy Sillman and Albert Oehlen.

Donna Payton’s studio

What is your overall goal as an artist, and what does being an artist mean to you?

I have always identified as an artist and have made drawings since I could hold a pencil as a

baby. Making art is an outlet, a form of expression, a diary of my life and observations, a

meditation. It grounds me and gives me joy. I hope that viewers and collectors who own my

work can feel this transmission. My goal is to be in many exhibitions, galleries, museums and


How do you think you have evolved as an artist over the years compared to

when you first started creating?

I had a teacher in college who said we are always painting the same painting throughout our

careers. I agree and even though the media and subject may have changed, I am saying the

same thing in my work over the years.

Donna Payton’s studio

Tell me about your studio space, its importance to you, and what's your favorite thing in that space?

My studio is my sanctuary. I always say ‘thank you’ and exhale a deep breath of relief when I

walk into it. When I leave or cannot be there; I say, ‘I will miss you.’ It is about 900 square feet

with an open beam ceiling about 30 feet high. There is a loft over part of it where my large

sculptures are so I can look up and see them. In the studio there is a big drafting table, a workbench with tools, 3 large tables for various projects, saw horses for working flat on large panels, 2 walls for working upright on canvas panels, a long wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves for assorted assemblage items, a large palette table on wheels, shelves for jars of paint, 2 flat files and a few small carts on wheels. I have an office area and a reading nook. Directly opposite the double doors of the studio are floor-to-ceiling windows where I love watching the seasons change, storms, rain and snowfall.

Donna Payton in her studio

Can you tell us about any shows or things you have coming up?

My work is currently in an exhibition at The Trenton City Museum in New Jersey. Next month,

several of my paintings and drawings will be in an exhibition at Parlor Gallery in Asbury Park,

New Jersey. Opening Saturday, November 4.

In February, 2024, my sculptures and paintings will be featured in the window of the Art

Alliance, Red Bank, New Jersey. In November and December, I am teaching an adult mixed

media class called Art Quest at the Arts Council of Princeton.

Donna Payton in her studio

You can learn more about Donna Payton and her work via these links:


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