Moylan_Untitled_2016

Fantastic Beasts

Surrounded by whorls of pink, blue and green, three birds perch like sentries on branches resembling tentacles. Meanwhile, a tree — a tiny painting within the painting — sits in the distance, like a portal to another dimension.

The painting is by Donna Moylan, whose work is filled with overlaid images and figures drawn from a life of travel and immersion in art. Having recently arrived from California — her husband Ben Chu is president and CEO of Memorial Hermann — Moylan is delighted to be showing for the first time in Houston at Barbara Davis Gallery, through July 1. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for art,” says Moylan of her new home.

In 1969, Moylan, then a student at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, took a class trip to Rome. Enchanted by the city, she skipped her return flight, and spent 23 years in Rome embracing what she calls “the sanity of the sensual life.” She mentions the Italian word ozio, which describes a kind of creative laziness, when speaking of learning to “breathe and listen” to the world around her.

But paintings as rich and complex as Moylan’s don’t paint themselves. “When I was a little girl, I used to imagine a machine where you could just project what was in your head onto a canvas,” says Moylan. “But it’s deep work, and you can’t avoid it. It’s like a monster in the middle of the floor. At the end of the day, you have a talk with that animal and ask, ‘What are we doing here?’”