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Cheryl McDonald will host an Opening Reception for her Coso Hall gallery show, “Mystic Dreams of Transformation,” featuring artworks with accompanying poetry. / Laura Austin Photos

McDonald’s art show offers images for contemplation

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff  Writer–

Join family, friends, and art lovers this Sunday, May 19, from 12 noon to 3 pm at the Maturango Museum as Cheryl McDonald hosts an Opening Reception for her Coso Hall gallery show, “Mystic Dreams of Transformation,” featuring artworks with accompanying poetry. The show will stay up until May 31.

This show features artwork that isn’t created to match your sofa. McDonald is a deep thinker with a surrealistic muse whose work just may inspire you to contemplate. She quotes Brian Eno, “Stop thinking of artworks as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” She adds, “That really kind of personifies my work. It’s not pretty pictures. It’s in an interesting, cute style.  Please think about it. I want to draw you into it. I want you to consider the imagery.

“I love connecting with the people that come, and that’s why I’ve done shows for many years.  I think that is important for an artist; you learn how to talk to people, you learn how to connect, and it also gives you insight into the work that you’re doing. You don’t make everybody happy. I don’t expect everybody to be happy. I don’t expect good comments from everybody.” 

Revelations or Renovations, a graphite pencil artwork, is one of several pieces of art created by McDonald displayed in the Coso Hall gallery.  / Laura Austin Photo

McDonald hung the artwork on March 11; last week, she attended an annual meeting in Coso Hall. She tells us, “A lot of people hardly even looked up at it. And that’s okay. It’s not their thing. And then some people were just amazed, and then there was one man I was talking to, and he said, ‘You know, most artists, they come and they tell us about brushstrokes and the images they’re painting, but you take it two or three levels way deeper. It’s fascinating, and it’s exciting.’” 

McDonald was raised in Ridgecrest since she was three years old. You may have known her as Cheryl Johnson when she graduated from Burroughs High School. Her parents met in Ridgecrest and moved from San Luis Obispo to Iowa until her mom said she missed the Sierras. Her grandparents moved even more. Her grandfather was a carny. McDonald tells of her grandmother, “She was a hellion. He played the ukulele, she fell in love with him, and they married after a week. They moved all over the southwest and then ended up in Sunset Beach. My grandfather saw an ad for workers on the Base. And so they came up here.” Consequently, McDonald’s mother is also a Burroughs High graduate.

One may think McDonald was a savant in kindergarten finger painting, but that is not the case. She didn’t start creating art until she was 19 or 20. “ For some reason, I got it in my head that I couldn’t make art. I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t draw anything that looked like anything.  I had friends who could, and I was very intimidated. I didn’t do art at all. I never took a class in high school. I was afraid to mess up my GPA.”

To spend some quality time with her mom, she took a primarily fiber art class, “We made banners, we did tie-dye, we did Batik. We did all these different things. And it was really fun.” The teacher told her, “You really have a good sense of color and design and composition; you should take a class at the college.” McDonald replied, “I can’t draw. And she laughed at me and said,’ You don’t have to draw to be an artist. If you want to draw, you’ll learn how.’”

McDonald began taking classes at the college and local studios. “I got hooked, and I just couldn’t stop taking classes. I couldn’t stop painting. It just changed my life. And because of the pictures I was getting in my head, I had to learn how to draw because I started doing abstract stuff because I couldn’t dress stick figures. So I took classes in drawing.”

Being in the desert has affected her work. “I was always told in art classes, especially at Cal State Long Beach, that I put too much empty space in my images. I take that from the desert because space is something we have. Sometimes I look across the desert, and it’s like looking into the ocean because it’s just this peaceful space. I do a lot of mountains, and, of course, the Sierras are here.”

This gallery show is surrealism which is her passion, but McDonald also has other expressions. She had her gallery in Long Beach, “I did a few beach scenes.  I used to do illustrations of beach towns and buildings and things like that. But, that was for money.” She also had a career in San Francisco as a contract graphic designer and showed in galleries there. In 2010 she moved back to Ridgecrest and focused on photography. “The photography got me out and around, and when I took all those pictures of abandoned places, I thought this could be a show. And so I had the show, Abandonment Issues, at Maturango in 2012, which really kind of escalated me in the community as a photographer.” She followed that with a mixed-media gallery in Randsburg for three years.

Around this time, McDonald started painting again, “I’ve been trying to find a style that worked here. And finally, I just realized that this is me. This is the art that comes from my heart. This is the art I need to make. When I came up with that, it was like my muse came back because she had been gone for years. So then, I started writing poetry. And  it was like magic again.”

Hanging on the walls are artworks that she created in the 90s and the early 2000s. “They are relevant in so much of today. It was almost like a premonition;  they seem more relevant today than back then.” She gets her inspiration from “Everywhere, really. Many of these come from politics, life situations,  emotions, and things that affect people.  I start looking at images, collecting ideas in my head, and then I can start drawing them.”

One eye-catching image is titled COVID Dreams; My Eyes Can Travel. She explains, “We were trapped inside. We couldn’t go out. It couldn’t be out in the world. But we could see outside; our eyes could still go outside. And if a tree was outside, I didn’t feel trapped so much. The whole world was in chaos. And that’s why all the walls are just all over the place.  I was just trying to capture that chaos and how I dealt with it.”

She says of Revelation or Renovation, “That was from a series about the fear of nuclear war and the devastation, and about the fear that people were not paying attention, that our governments were not paying attention, and that they were going to cause the end of the world.

“I arranged the show so that the first wall is mostly chaos, mostly pictures of chaotic imagery and emotions dealing with change. And then on the second wall is where tide pools are, and the Ode to Georgia that’s more peaceful and gives you a little rest. The other is Hanging in Space which is partly about change and partly about emotions. What gets left behind? How do you choose what gets left behind, and why do you leave it?

“For me, art is a way of connecting what is going on in my soul with what’s going on in yours. And making you think a little bit.”

Enjoy the show, think a bit, and take home a print with a poem or a book with all the works and poetry. Her prints/poems are 13×9” and sell for $45.00. The book is $30.