Behind the Mask
Donna Martin spends hours every day pouring her heart into her art. Donna’s one-of-a kind 3D oil paintings not only take inspiration from elaborate Venetian masks, but also the emotions she is experiencing in her daily life.
Donna Martin sits peacefully in her home studio and ponders the mysterious mask in front of her. Today she feels happy and light so she chooses vivid, eclectic colours and playfully paints the mask in a stylistic manner; today the mask is a beautiful butterfly.
As the weeks go on, Donna’s mood changes and the butterfly starts losing its colour. Certain events that have occurred in Donna’s life sway her brush into a melancholic rhythm, darkening its mood; now the mask is a wasp.
Donna, 52, is a decorative artist whose 3D oil paintings honour the spectacular Venetian masks of Italy.
“I put a lot of emotions into the masks,” Donna says, “I spend most of my time in my art studio where I can just lock myself away and I spend several hours a day on them.
“Each mask can take six to eight weeks from start to finish. One that is going to be beautiful often doesn’t end up that way. It really depends on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.”
Her work, which can be seen at the Eumundi Markets on Saturdays, was originally inspired by pictures of ornamental face masks Donna found in magazines.
“One of the photos was an Arabian-style piece with a genie mask emerging from a lantern. The colour and detail of the masks intrigued and mesmerised me, and after a lot of trial and error and brainstorming, I started creating the masks as you see them today.”
As her passion for the masks grew, Donna began furiously researching them online.
Each mask can take six to eight weeks from start to finish. One that is going to be beautiful often doesn’t end up that way. It really depends on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.”
“I was looking at different things; different pictures of them. When I started to see them online, I realised the people who make them are amazing. I thought, ‘there has to be a way I can make my own version of them’.”
Donna first started painting with oil paint about 12 years ago with her mentor and friend, renowned Australian artist Warwick Tait.
She learned how to paint landscapes, nudes and renaissance-style pieces, but it wasn’t long before she yearned for a style of her own; an outlet to express her deepest emotions.
“I didn’t enjoy painting what everyone else was painting. I was taught about how to use oil paints, the composition and layout of your painting, and in that time painted all different styles and compositions, until I found my own subjects and style which excited me and thus the masks were born.
“Each of my masks has their own little story on how they were formed and named. I put a lot of feeling into them. It’s an emotional thing for me and a way I can express myself.”
Donna says painting gave her a much-needed reprieve from the busyness of life, but she never realised it would become more than that.
“When I took up painting, initially it began as a hobby; it gave me some much-needed time out from my busy life as a wife and mother-of-three.
“When I started, I really didn’t think of painting as anything more than a hobby and certainly didn’t envisage that it would morph into a business. However, as time went on I found that the enjoyment I derived from oil painting very quickly grew into something I had to do, and something that I am incredibly passionate about.”
It wasn’t long before Donna left her career in management to become a professional artist.
I love it when people come up to me and they enjoy what I have done, that keeps me going as well.”
“I’ve always liked art, but I never thought I could do it, let alone do it full-time.”
Donna says she has learned over the years that painting may come easily to others, but with hard work and persistence anyone can paint and be good at it.
“Some people have a God-given talent, which I don’t, and some people have to work really hard – which I did.”
Donna says her foray into painting 3D masks wasn’t readily accepted, with many people questioning her artistic direction, including her teacher Warwick. But that didn’t stop her.
“When I want to do something and someone says I can’t, I want to do it. My friend Warwick was saying ‘do you really want to do this?’ You say no to me and I will become more determined. But he always supported me.”
Visitors to her stall at the Eumundi Markets are often in awe of the mask paintings’ colour and vibrancy.
“People seem to like them, particularly people who have been to Italy who always relate them to their travels there, and people who have been to New Orleans relate them to the Carnival in New Orleans, and some people just like them.
“I love it when people come up to me and they enjoy what I have done, that keeps me going as well.”
So much love and time is put into the mask paintings, and putting a dollar figure on her work is near impossible, Donna says, with many of her works taking several weeks to finish.
“As an artist you really can’t charge by the hour, from my perspective that’s how it works. What I think and what someone will pay aren’t always the same. You do it for the passion.”
Donna says to this day she still hasn’t been able to visit Italy’s water city, Venice, of where much of her inspiration is drawn.
She has previously booked two trips to the boot-shaped country, but as fate would have it both trips were cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. She plans to go as soon as she can.
“Venice would be high on the list. You see these people who handcraft them out of gold, silver and you think, ‘wow that is amazing’. I will get there one day. I think I’ll stock up on masks for inspiration.”
We hope she gets there too.