Robert Donley Untitled (river with hills) 2006 graphite and acrylic on paper 22 x 30 inches
Robert Donley Smog / Smoke / Steel 2005 oil on canvas 32 x 56 inches
Robert Donley Icarus 2004 oil on canvas 40 x 48 inches
Robert Donley St. Patrick’s Parade 1983 oil on canvas 50 x 40 inches
Robert Donley Gay Paree 1981 oil on canvas 48 x 66 inches
Robert Donley Great Tank Battle 1981 graphite and colored pencil on paper 22 1/2 x 30 inches
Robert Donley Kremlin 1981 oil on canvas 48 x 60 inches
Robert Donley Bombs Away 1980 graphite and colored pencil on paper 22 1/2 x 30 inches
Robert Donley Dam Busters 1980 pencil and crayon on paper 22 1/2 x 30 inches
Robert Donley Parachute Drop 1979 oil on canvas 60 x 48 inches
Robert Donley Invasion of the Continent 1978 oil on canvas 66 x 72 inches
Robert Donley Sodom and Gamorrah 1973 graphite and colored pencil on paper 37 x 25 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Pagan Temple 1973 graphite and colored pencil on paper 37 x 25 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Hide and Seek 1973 graphite and colored pencil on paper 37 x 25 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Babel 1972 oil on canvas 32 x 32 inches
Robert Donley LBJ 1968 oil on canvas 46 x 31 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Warlord 1967-68 oil on canvas 25 x 20 inches
Robert Donley The General Loves Us All 1967 graphite and pastel on paper 22 x 30 inches
Robert Donley Red on Green 1962 oil on canvas 24 x 25 inches
Robert Donley Red on Purple 1962 oil on canvas 30 x 29 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Three 1961 monoprint on paper 23 x 18 inches
Robert Donley Red Sun 1961 monoprint on paper 21 x 16 inches
Robert Donley California Heat 1959 oil on canvas 66 x 56 inches
Robert Donley Spring 1959 oil on paper 44 x 28 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Within 1959 oil on paper 44 x 28 1/2 inches
Robert Donley Quiet 1959 oil on paper 44 x 28 1/2 inches
Photograph of Robert Donley
Photograph of Robert Donley (left)
Lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
Robert Donley was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and came to Chicago to receive a BFA in 1960 and an MFA in 1966 from the School of the Art Institute. For almost 40 years, beginning in 1967, Donley taught in the art department at DePaul University until moving to Portland, Oregon in 2008. His work is included in the collections of the National Museum of American Art, First National Bank in Chicago, DePaul University, and Mobil Oil Corporation in New York.
Known for his huge landscape paintings full of hundreds of tiny people, Robert Donley is one of Chicago’s great figurative expressionists, crafting a unique and wholly personal aesthetic since the middle 1960s. However, an entire arena of Donley’s work was never seen in the Windy City: his color-field paintings. Donley left Chicago for half a decade starting in 1959, moving to Los Angeles, where his work shifted from the abstract expressionist orientation that had been cultivated at the Art Institute of Chicago. Working in the same milieu out of which California’s post-ab-ex community arose, including such figures as Robert Irwin, Ed Moses, and Billy Al Bengston, Donley exhibited his large-scale abstractions at Paul Plummer Gallery and in exhibitions at the L.A. County Museum. Elegant and often highly geometrical, they absorb influences from Josef Albers to John McLaughlin, tempering a hard-edged tendency with brilliant painterly touches, all quite thinly painted in vivid colors. A series of exuberant works on paper from his first year in L.A. show the influence of the California light on the Midwesterner – like the paintings Miyoko Ito executed on the West Coast, Donley’s palette shifted to a soft, saturated, more organic, deeply warm set of dominant colors.
Donley returned to Chicago in 1964 to re-enter the School of the Art Institute, destined to build on a very different set of images, though his preoccupation with searing colors and the landscape format have persisted. By the 1970s Donley began to investigate more historical themes, painting his first landscapes populated by crowds of tiny figures. In 1980, at his first solo exhibition at Monique Knowlton Gallery in New York, he exhibited a series of these paintings depicting major wars of the twentieth century – scenes that are simultaneously apocalyptic and hilarious. Donley’s contemporary work continues his fascination with the city, with their God’s-eye views of all of the buildings, trees, animals, rivers, cars, and people, both anonymous and recognizable, that populate urban life.