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Donia Lilly Donia Lilly shows her pastel abstractions this weekend on Cannery Row.

Donia Lilly

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Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 8:52 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.

Photo: by Randy Tunnell

Pacific Grove painter Donia Lilly is just 25, but she''s already moved through at least three clearly defined artistic periods. First, there were the paintings she based on memories of her travels through North America, Europe and the Caribbean; she calls these her "more subject-oriented" works. Then came the acrylic abstracts--energetic swirls of bright blue, gray, white and black--evoking Japanese wave paintings. Finally, there are the more recent "aesthetic evocations," emotionally intense abstract pastels, rich in color, that well up from Lilly''s subconscious. She still works in all three styles, but it''s only the last group--her primary artistic focus now--that will be on display this weekend at Monterey''s Gallery Lucien.

The New York-born and Phoenix-raised artist moved to P.G. a little more than a year ago, after earning a B.A. in studio art at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. She''d already amassed quite a collection of work, most of it watercolors, the medium in which she''s trained.

Lately, Lilly prefers working in pastels. She began to focus on pastels three years ago, and says she finds it more forgiving than watercolor paint, which dries on the paper almost as soon as it is applied.

"Pastels are so soft, so delicate, so blendable," she says, brushing a finger softly over a sheet of paper covered in orange and yellow lines. Lilly calls her pastel works "paintings" because she treats the medium as a painter would--a finger painter, perhaps.

"Some artists do hatching with pastels, like drawings. They use the pastels like pencils, making a mark and leaving it. I like to work very hands-on; I love to mush everything around with my fingers, blending the colors together. When I work with a brush I feel I''m distancing myself. Even with the acrylics, I do quick brush work and then get in there with my hands."

Lilly flips through a selection of her earlier works, the pastels she did based on memories of her travels. She says she doesn''t like to work on-site, and, although she often takes photos or makes sketches of scenes to refer back to later in the studio, it is rarely the scenes themselves that show up in her work. Rather, it is the memory of sunlight streaming into an alleyway, how it struck a small vine leaning against a wall, that influence the final painting. "I don''t use specific places in my paintings. I say, this is a beautiful curve in the tree, but I don''t draw the tree. It''s the sense of light, the shapes, the lines or values that stay with me."

Half a year ago, Lilly began doing monochromatic abstracts. Downstairs in her studio--really a converted garage that she works in with the door open, so light can come in--some of these most recent works are tacked up on the walls. There''s a purple one, a blue one, a yellow one, a green one, each one moving through different hues of the dominant color while still strongly projecting that color''s essence. As the eye moves from painting to painting, distinct shifts in one''s emotional reaction can be noted. It feels physically different, for example, to look at one of Lilly''s yellow paintings, and then at a red one.

"Color is such a powerful presence," Lilly says, her eye trained first on a blue painting, and then on a green one. "It evokes different emotions. Not specific emotions like love or anger. You can''t describe how it makes you feel, it''s just something that wells up in you."

Like many visual artists, Lilly doesn''t much like to analyze her own work, although when necessary she can discuss it articulately. In her artist''s statement, she writes: "These paintings exist because they are visual ideas, not visual manifestations of verbal concepts. They are evocations of emotions, feeling, states of being so subtle they can have no linguistic labels or descriptions. That''s why they were created as paintings."

Lilly''s pastel "paintings" are extremely energetic, with great, round swirls of color emanating from a central point--some suggest the bursts of matter and light that occur at the creation of a planetary system. This is not Lilly''s intention. Still, she does read a lot about astronomy and quantum physics, and, she admits, "You can''t help but be influenced by what you read."

Aesthetic Evocations: Works in Pastel, paintings by Donia Lilly, will be on display March 21 and 22 from 6:30-9pm at Gallery Lucien, 417 Cannery Row, Monterey. The show may be previewed at

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