The first Madeline Donahue piece I ever came across was a brightly hued painting of a mother wrapped around her two small kids, one child hanging across her back with his hand pressed tenderly on her face, the other cradled to her chest. The mother’s body was at the mercy of her children’s weight, their simultaneous push and pull. Precariously balanced yet beatific and smiling. It’s an image that conveys so many emotions at once: chaos, joy, contentment, and love. I recognized myself in it instantly. I was probably in a similar position when I came across it on my phone.
It was more than just recognition, I felt known — in so accurately capturing this experience, Donahue also saw me. I shared it on my Instagram feed and instantly saw it bounced back to me on my friends’ Stories, ricocheting across all of our feeds in an endless loop because of how immediately it spoke to every other mother I knew. That’s the power of Donahue’s art, to have something so specific feel so universal in its story about motherhood that everyone from New York’s own Jerry Saltz to actress Busy Phillips has shared her work in their own feeds. Her new solo exhibition, “Strange Magic,” opens October 6 at Hesse Flatow in New York City.