Stranger than fiction

Features Issue 117 Jul, 2011
Text and Photo By Pat Kauba

A man of multiple facets, Donato has seemingly checked most of the items on every man’s bucket list.

I sit on a cold apartment floor, sharing it with the bones of a kangaroo. Slabs of carved rocks sit upon the kitchen counter and on its floor, a big brown snake slithers, encircling ten eggs - adjacent, red papier-mâché dragonflies buzz. No personal effects adorn the space, it serves one purpose - just as the blacksmith has his workshop, Donato Rosella has his space for tempering work.

His fifth Nepali show starts soon, a challenge he welcomes. He is soon moving everything to the third floor of Siddartha Art Gallery. Humorously he says it has taken three, three-month trips, over three years to produce it. “Mostly made in Nepal, for showing in Nepal.” One can taste his pride.

There will be nearly 100 pieces of papier-mâché men, each expiring their last breath. Other pieces explore the scenarios we experience, travelling from birth to death. He creates these by first carving figures into rock and then duplicates the image by laying down wet papier-mâché.

Going back a little, Donato explains how school was challenging as he suffered badly from dyslexia. He reminisces about his second grade art teacher, Mrs. Wright, who had a huge box of art supplies, with every color imaginable—art became his comfort. Teachers told him he had no future in arts, for he could never study it. At 15, he left school, to focu on his “love affair” with sculpting. By 18, he became so immersed that he felt he had to break away. His answer? Joining the circus, cabarets and shows, playing music - another of his passions.

Surprisingly, Donato never “learned” to read music—only learning by listening. A world of “community arts” started while keeping his love affair with sculpting alive.
He began wandering into Australia’s vast deserts, beginning a different affair. Nowadays, living in his 1962 Bedford camper, he still finds himself there. When 17, he explored further to Europe, travelling for six months. Returning home, he was hooked, but financially grounded. Surprisingly, one day a compensation arrived years after an accident he had had. He was back on the road immediately: Indonesia, Sumatra, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Moscow, U.K., Sweden, Italy, U.S.A., Egypt, Trinidad and more—just “following his nose”.

Music would often help him along. Each destination granted its own whirlwind: playing with members of American funk rock group Red Hot Chilli Peppers in the 80’s, or Frank Zappa’s saxophone player. He remembers sitting in Hollywood veteran Denis Hopper’s L.A. home, chatting with the icon, having no idea who he was, or meeting the departed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in New York… he smiles.

Donato remembers the task at hand. He talks about the honor of sharing the gallery with Australian Aboriginal work from the Balgo Hills settlement, New South Wales. He even lived there three decades ago, helping establish its first arts centre; much to the missionaries consternation—a fox-like glance appears. He cannot but feel the irony of their work sharing space here. Donato’s work has been influenced by decades of experience and travel, whereas the Balgo Hills natives, 3,000 miles from anywhere, are influenced by their surroundings through millennia of isolation.

Perhaps the kangaroo will feel right at home here surrounded by their work?

Pat Kauba is a freelance writer and photographer who admires the brave. He can be contacted at