Cheryl Donegan’s ever-changing painting “Doomscrolling” expresses the downsides of social media
“Doomscrolling” – that concise coat rack depicting our social media habit of moving from one bad news to another – is the title of Cheryl Donegan’s treadmill painting on display at Blind Alley in Fort Worth.
Blind Alley is a new gallery project that looks like a storefront with no attached store. Started by artist couple Terri Thornton and Cam Schoepp, the rustic and gracious space is a simple room with a large front-facing window that opens onto a residential street.
Since its advent in 2020, it has hosted a series of artist projects that make creative use of the unusual display format. In this incarnation, curators Gavin Morrison and Lucia Simek brought in Donegan, who hung a long roll of paint made up of components that are periodically turned off for the duration of the exhibition.
Ever-changing imagery is a lo-fi interpretation of algorithms feeding us an ever-changing channel of enticing information through our phones.
At first glance, the painting is uniformly abstract. The backstory, however, reveals that the markings are, in fact, references to abandoned shopping malls. This organizing theme allows Donegan to shyly comment on the once hopeful business of malls, where everyone has gone to ogle and buy a wide range of products.
Today’s malls feel useless and almost obsolete, like unlucky dinosaurs slowly sinking into the tar. A favorite haunt for teens of years gone by, malls were ultra-commercial businesses, but also essential places to gather and socialize. The irony of this largely defunct business is not lost on Donegan.
His schematic paintings of buildings appear to come from a reflection on how social media (and perhaps art) is just another problematic utopian endeavor meant to combine selling with our desire for community.
We all know our phones often replace in-person interactions with a hollow surrogate. At worst, social media platforms are car crash decoys, fueling our lowest instincts and uglier tribal dispositions. The last political cycle has clearly shown this.
In essence, Donegan seems to imply that our phones are now our malls – spaces doomed to fall short of our lofty hopes for commercial connectivity and supposed social good. Perhaps the beauty found in Donegan’s painting also recognizes that any utopian endeavor, though ultimately disappointing – if not harmful – can also bring some value among the imperfections.
Whatever impulse to work, Donegan offers a smart and simple solution to Blind Alley’s one-stop prospect. His vertical flow painting is confidently created from luminous marks offset by dark, cartoonish outlines.
When I visited, the shifting paint was dotted with spiderweb lines and erratic color specks vaguely reminiscent of Carroll Dunham’s early paintings, which also have fatality in their DNA.
Donegan, however, consistently gives his scrolling images a goofy mix of zombie attraction and desperation. Perhaps this questionable balance is a way for her to imply that in any social interaction there is a temporary bond with another person or group, tempered by a lonely reminder that we are all ultimately isolated in our own minds and body.
“Cheryl Donegan: Doomscrolling” runs through July 23 at Blind Alley, 3317 W. Fourth St., Fort Worth. Open during daylight hours. For more information visit blindalleyprojects.com.