'Art as Artifact' presents the oil paintings of artist Dona Simons both before and after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Simons’ passion for Louisiana music finds expression in her work. In 2004 she completed a series of paintings titled “Louisiana Music Below Sea Level” presenting contemporary musicians performing in undersea settings. The underwater environment was her visual metaphor for New Orleans - before Hurricane Katrina hit. An art critic at French newspaper Nice Matin labeled her “without doubt visionary.” Her artwork foretold its own fate, as shown in the haunting images on the pages of 'Art as Artifact.' Painting from life in the dreamlike settings of aquariums had long been an inspired form of meditation for Simons. She created paintings at aquariums in New Orleans and on the island of Curaçao. After spending years portraying brilliantly colored sea anemones and corals, she began including something else under the sea, a guitar player in strange harmony with the undersea-scape. Then more local musicians she admired gradually appeared. On August 30, 2005, the levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina flooded her studio, her home and many of her paintings, including those set underwater. 'Art as Artifact' tells a visual story of Simons’ life and work. In addition to prescient aspects of the paintings’ subject matter, a tale is told by the stains, tears and waterlines that the canvases now contain. During the weeks the paintings spent submerged, they acquired the patina of age, surfacing like relics from an ancient civilization. The damage speaks of a catastrophic event in a specific time and place. It adds a dimension of historical significance to the artwork. In another sense the paintings became new again, as collaborative works, with Hurricane Katrina having had the last word. 'Art as Artifact' provides a glimpse into the dramatic world of Dona Simons' flooded paintings where beauty and destruction collide.
Dona Simons has exhibited her oil paintings in museums and galleries in the U. S., Europe and the Caribbean, and is represented in public and private collections. A longtime New Orleans resident, Simons is included in catalogs, documentaries and publications such as “Who’s Who in American Art.” She has received grants from national and local arts foundations. Past artist residencies have taken her to California, New Mexico, and a castle in France. Simons grew up in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania where she began oil painting at the age of six. After high school, she spent a year painting in Nice, France. Upon her return, Simons held her first solo exhibition on Newbury Street in Boston before studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Apparent in her paintings, Simons has a passion for Louisiana music and undersea landscapes. The world underwater has enchanted her since she first visited the Caribbean as a child. As an adult, she lived there for six years.