Keeper of the Gate by Ron Donovan, 2011
Mixed Media on panel
144 x 108 inches
Keeper of the Gate by Ron Donovan, a site specific installation for the SFMOMA Artist’s Gallery, can now be seen day or night at the gallery’s public arts venue: the SFMOMA Garage Windows at 147 Minna Street and 150 Natoma Street.
Set against a receding black background, the monumental piece is constructed with 8 layers of hand-painted wood paneling, and prints on wood panel, and stands over 9 ft tall and 12 feet wide. Like the other two artists, Chris Shaw and Chuck Sperry whose work can be found in the adjacent window spaces, Donovan chose the female as his subject matter. She appears all encompassing: part super hero, part vixen, part rock star and part Hindu goddess.
For RonDon™, she represents strength; and like everything (or at least most things he sees in life), the dichotomous structure from which its meaning is created. Strength reflects characteristics that may seem contradictory: strength requires vulnerability, revealing one’s core truth, for example, not just courage of one’s convictions. You cannot have one without the other. In layers of meanings depicted in symbolic adornments, antiquated and contemporary, religious and cultural, she is alluring yet fearsome. Her swords derive from Hindu iconography symbolizing enlightenment, for use against the darkness of ignorance.
She is Keeper of the Gate and she is also strength: fierce and vulnerable. She carries a Mayan head dress on her head, a chain of human skulls around her neck and sacred tools in her hands. Her form fitting fabric references Chinese manufacturing and American currency. She is a cross pollination of cultures and religions identifiable with societies around the world. Wearing wings she is also like Garuda, the male winged Hindu god, the enormous mythical bird-like creature with keen intelligence and highly developed organizational abilities, representing the combined characteristics of animals and divine beings. Be it man, woman, of any culture, of any religion, “every religion tells the same story,” says Donovan, and we are one in the same.
Bay Area artist Ron Donovan was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, a pioneering computer systems scientist with a keen intellect, worked on special projects for the military and his mother, a home maker, wanted her son to pursue a profession, law or medicine. It was his father who encouraged Donovan’s creative nature and artistic ability and supported his desire to follow his passion. Donovan took his talents to the mainland and studied at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California.
It was the 80’s, Reagan was in office, yuppies were the rage, investment banking a rising profession, the monetary carrot of capitalistic dreams dangled in front of college students of the era. Donovan’s interest in politics and people found expression through a discovered passion: silk screening. His rebellious, humorous constitution, immersion in the local art and music scene, personable nature, and charismatic personality unified his peers.
Before long, he became well known for his renegade, abundant creative energy and candid expression. Donovan’s Pacific Island background and influence invigorated his focus on American political satire and relations, and multi-cultural studies. It was also in college where he met Chris Shaw, fellow collaborator in the exhibition. Later, Donovan met Sperry and set up a printing studio, a Warholian factory of sorts, at an old vacated San Francisco firehouse on Polk Street. When they were asked to vacate in the 90’s, they crossed the bay and set up shop in West Oakland, while retaining the original name, The Firehouse.
Today, with Shaw living nearby in his own live/work studio, the group continues to work, collaborate, tour, debate and “hang-out.” With a radiant work ethic, the three also continue on, creating their own individual art works as well as the rock posters for many famous bands that they themselves have become known for.