The Abstract and the Divine: A Q&A with Lehman Associate Art Professor Gina Dominique

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Photo of Lehman Art Gallery
Photo of Lehman Art Gallery

Lehman College Associate Professor Gina Dominique explores spirituality and historical abstraction, including gestural and geometric methods in her work. paintings are informed by her decades-long yoga and meditation practices.

This month, Dominique’s abstract, technicolor paintings are on display in COLOR: The Faculty Exhibition 2019, which features the new work of 22 Lehman Art Department studio artists. We caught up with Dominique as she was preparing the exhibition’s focal point, a site-specific installation in the gallery’s rotunda called, “Pink Universe.”

Q: Tell us about the work you will be presenting in COLOR: The Faculty Exhibition 2019.
A: “Pink Universe” is an installation that was inspired by a group of smaller paintings I did this past year (on view at Shala Art Gallery at The Shala Union Square, 816 Broadway, from Sept. 6–Oct. 31). The two large-scale murals hanging on the curved crimson colored walls are reflective of a few 12” flat, round paintings I made on stretched canvases. After seeing my highly organic small “worlds,” I readily imagined using a similar gestural approach on a much larger scale. Then I researched the Hubble telescope and other published images of the universe. Two of them informed my murals’ celestial compositions.

My approach to the rotunda’s central clustered column echoes two recent 12 x 12” concentric pink square paintings I made last Spring, (also on view at Shala Art Gallery). It is in direct contrast to how I constructed the murals. That is rather than using gestural abstraction, I painted a flat, hard-edged geometric abstract pattern. I took one of the inspiration paintings to my neighborhood house paint store, and had five of the colors digitally scanned. I used those latex custom mixes to paint the clustered column’s five wide chevron bands. Ultimately, the entire installation is an in-the-round and three-dimensional projection of my current studio painting practices.

Q: What inspired the group of smaller paintings that later inspired the murals featured in COLOR? 
A: I loved pink as a child, and since my sophomore year of undergraduate painting, I have been enamored with all shades of pink paint. In this new body of work, I made the color pink the focal point, or, as we say in yoga, the drishti.

According to symbolists, pink is the color of universal love of oneself and of others, and it represents unconditional love and understanding. It signifies affection, caring, compassion, friendship, harmony, inner peace, and approachability. Pink is associated with passion, good health and success. As you view the work, I hope you feel and absorb, consciously and subconsciously, these very things.

Q: Did you employ any of the techniques you used in previous series for Pink Universe? 
A: My imagery and approaches are inspired by my loves of abstraction, geometry and spirituality. Using a combination of acrylics and pencil, I work on canvas, wood or board. I always employ various techniques, typically those used by gestural and geometric abstractionists.

Q: Have you completed many big pieces of art before?
A: To date, I have constructed three large-scale gallery installations, including one each in Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art and the University of New Mexico Art Museum. Also, I completed four large-scale outdoor public murals in Seattle, and was an assistant artist on a 200-foot long public mural.

Q; When did you first become interested in art?
A: Some of my earliest memories in life are from ages 2 and 3, sitting on my bedroom floor making finger paintings and stacking wooden blocks. That marks the beginning of my interest in art. Throughout the 1970s, my parents took me and my siblings on annual summer vacations to Washington, D.C., where we visited the Smithsonian Institutions, especially the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Air and Space Museum, and other iconic museums. A stand out for me is the National Gallery of Art. Together, we explored and absorbed our nation’s art, political, scientific, and space histories. All of it greatly enhanced my interests in art, culture, history, politics, and space science.

Q: Yogic principles and imagery seem to figure prominently in your work. How did your practice inform your interest in exploring these themes in your work?
A: The more committed I became to making art, practicing yoga, and meditating, the more the practices overlapped.

Q: How long were you practicing before you started exploring these themes in your artwork?
A: I have been painting since age 2, and doing yoga (all eight limbs), since age 22. I began to focus on yogic themes in my work during the mid 1990s, I was in my 30s then.

Q: And how did that idea or decision come about for you? 
A: It came about when I was invited to do an installation in Albuquerque, and for it I created "Orange Plastic Room", which was a meditation on orange. In retrospect, I see now my focus on a single color is one way that I approach meditation.

Q: What brought you to Lehman College?
A: I came to Lehman College in August 2013 as the associate dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and associate professor of art. In August 2016, I decided to focus just on teaching. Prior to my time at Lehman, I taught art history, drawing and painting at Delta College (in Michigan), where I became a full professor and chair of the art department.

Q: What is it like working in the Art Department at Lehman? What kind of students do you teach?
A: It is an honor to work in the Lehman College Art Department because it is one of a few hundred college art departments in the country to house nationally ranked BFA and MFA visual arts programs. (It is also among the five CUNY institutions to offer both these visual arts programs.) And due to all art faculty members being as engaged in our own professional art careers as we are in our academic careers, it is also an invigorating department to be part of. Many of us maintain studios in New York City, and have national or international exhibition records.

COLOR: The Faculty Exhibition 2019 runs through Saturday, Oct. 5 in the Lehman College Art Gallery in the Fine Arts Building. Admission is free and open to the public.