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‘Art as Commentary’: Artist decides to address issues of the day

Lance Shearer
Correspondent

Donald Sunshine has a few things on his mind, and it ain’t all sunshine.

His paintings are featured in an exhibit in La Petite Galerie at the Marco Island Center for the Arts titled “Art as Commentary” – except in his own commentary on the show, he writes ART AS COMMENTARY in all caps, which in the era of digital communications is the written equivalent of shouting.

Donald Sunshine in Lat Petite Galerie. His exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.

That would be appropriate to the subject matter, although Sunshine is old school, analog rather than digital, and doesn’t even possess a cell phone. “We’re not of that generation,” said his partner and fellow artist Joanna Sunshine.

What Donald Sunshine is is passionate about the world, what is going on in it, and the need to speak out concerning what you believe in, especially for artists. The 28 watercolor paintings that make up the exhibit are art with a point, expressing his take on current issues including climate change, pollution, immigration and social justice. Many include superscriptions or captions, laying out the topic or event that prompted the work.

This exhibit, in the rich tradition of all of the arts, addresses relevant contemporary concerns. The intention of these works is to raise thoughtful consideration of significant issues of our day,” he says in the artist’s statement that accompanies the paintings. Sunshine lays claim to artists as diverse as Goya, Picasso and Bob Dylan as progenitors for creating art with a message.

"Border Children" takes on the question of immigration policy. Donald Sunshine's exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.

Without close inspection, or in some cases with it, the paintings themselves wouldn’t necessarily inform the viewer of Sunshine’s position. As a retired architect and professor emeritus of architecture who spent many years at Virginia Tech, he could draw with great precision, but shuns photo-realism. “After all we do have cameras these days.”

A watercolor of the Eiffel Tower carries the caption “The Paris Accord … obviously money trumps the future of the planet.” An impressionistic, almost abstract, aerial view of blue channels of water through green mangroves, says “The Florida Everglades … a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The U.S. has withdrawn from UNESCO.”

This painting of the Rio Grande makes the point a border wall would cover the distance from here to Boston. Donald Sunshine's exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.

Additional paintings take on immigration, with the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty quotation “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … ,” and another titled “Border Children,” a little more explicit, depicting a mass of small figures being herded toward a wall by a gun-belted official.

He realizes, said Sunshine, that his positions on many of these topics put him well to the left of the mainstream on Marco Island. “Sure, they’ll call me a bleeding heart liberal,” he said unrepentantly.

This study of the Eiffel tower, evoking Sunshine's background in architecture, is a comment on US ecological policy. Donald Sunshine's exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.
These paintings contrast an indigenous Dogon village in Africa with shantytown conditions in teeming cities. Donald Sunshine's exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.

Donald and Joanna, whose art features textiles, spend their winters on Isles of Capri and summers on their farm in southwest Virginia, a Jimmy Buffett-worthy pairing of “islands and highlands.” He has exhibited at Chicago’s Art Insitute and the Museum of Science and Industry along with exhibits in Virginia, Florida and Hawaii, and has authored seven books. His current work can be seen online at www.molokaiartgallery.com.

To see the “Art as Commentary” show, as well as the Art Council of Southwest Florida Spring Show in the Lauritzen and Rush Galleries, get to the Marco Island Center for the Arts by March 27, the last day they will be hung.  

This study of the the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, evoking Sunshine's background in architecture, is a response to the mass shooting there. Donald Sunshine's exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.
Donald Sunshine in Lat Petite Galerie. His exhibit "Art as Commentary" is on display at the Marco Island Center for the Arts through Mar. 27.

For more information and upcoming events, call the Marco Island Center for the Arts, 1010 Winterberry Drive, at 239-394-4221 or visit the Center’s website: www.marcoislandart.org.