‘Ultimately in the end, everything for everyone will end in the same way’ – Miranda Donovan At CNB Gallery

Metaphors for Mankind at Mark Hix‘s CNB Gallery presents a new solo exhibition by the acclaimed British artist Miranda Donovan.

The assembled works, which the artist describes as ‘sculptural paintings’, are drawn from three series: her meticulously detailed brickwork pieces, skilfully created by carving out miniature bricks from building materials, her ‘steel sheet’ with rivets works which are in fact made from resin, and her smaller figurative works done on either cement or computer motherboards.

Gallery director Rebecca Lidert explains, “The power of Donovan’s work is that it reflects man’s ingenuity, his skills and strength, but in doing so lays bare its temporality, portrayed through the erosive and gritty imprint of decay.”

I had the chance to speak with Miranda about her artistic practice and forthcoming exhibition.

Miranda Donovan, Keep Walking, Oil, acrylic, enamel and resin on panel, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, Keep Walking, Oil, acrylic, enamel and resin on panel, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

How did you become involved in creating art / was there a specific moment that you decided to pursue it as a career?

It has always been engrained in my DNA. From the age of 4/5 I’d spend hours in my own imaginative world with a pile of pens and pencils engrossed in scribbling and making pictures. After completing an A-level in art I went on to do a History of Art degree at Bristol University. At the time I wanted more background knowledge and a deeper understanding of the arts in general. After getting my BA Hons a string of events took me to France where I gained a place at the Ecole des Beaux Arts d’Aix-en-Provence, France. At this time I was living and painting in a tiny studio apartment and it was here I remember thinking this is it, this is what I want to do.

Your work in the upcoming exhibition includes brickwork pieces created by carving out miniature bricks from building materials; steel sheet with rivets works made from resin and smaller figurative works on cement – what entices you to utilize these different mediums?

Yes this show combines four varying bodies of work, which have come together because they stand, for me, as metaphors for mankind. The part the materials play is vital. As we know sand, concrete and cement is used to build very strong structures so there’s perhaps an irony that I’m applying it in a way that suggests decay an aging. What I’m also particularly drawn to is the dryness of cement and concrete. As a raw material it’s a beautiful medium to work with. For the “steel sheets” with rivets works, I deliberately used resin to emulate steel rather than finding abandoned pieces of metal on which to paint.   It was important to me that a sense of craftsmanship and physicality was incorporated into these works. Perhaps this is my reaction to a world in which everything is mass-produced and wherein as a result little emotional value is placed on these objects. In addition by making these “steel sheets’ I was able to manipulate the resin whilst it cured to give it a coiled, warped and gnarled appearance and so hold onto my autonomy in the process of making. And lastly my decision to paint directly onto the found computer motherboards was twofold. As objects in themselves they are captivating with their intricate brain-like wiring and yet ironically these motherboards are indicative of something that has taken over our lives. Computers, the internet and social media never sleeps. And for this reason I framed the works in light boxes as I wanted their intricate workings to be enhanced so as to bring on a more sinister, haunting feel to them.

Miranda Donovan, Face in the Wind, November, Acrylic, auto paints and mixed media on cardboard, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, Face in the Wind, November, Acrylic, auto paints and mixed media on cardboard, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, No Expectations, Acrylic, Swarovski crystals and resin on board, 2013-14 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, No Expectations, Acrylic, Swarovski crystals and resin on board, 2013-14 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

You have described these works as ‘sculptural paintings’ and there is evidently a sculptural quality to these works that blurs the boundaries between sculpture and painting – how important is this ‘sculptural aspect’ to the work?

It is an important part of the work as not only does it blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture so depleting any hierarchical value that may be placed on either of these practices but it also creates a third space where the viewer becomes a more integral part of the work.   Aside from looking at the pieces it often provokes in the viewer a desire to touch.

Miranda Donovan, Mental, Acrylic, auto paints and mixed media on board, 2015 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, Mental, Acrylic, auto paints and mixed media on board, 2015 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, Dare to Tread, Acrylic, Swarovski crystal and resin on board, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, Dare to Tread, Acrylic, Swarovski crystal and resin on board, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

‘Metaphors for Mankind’ seems to continue your interest in an exploration of the human condition and the darker sides of civilisation, particularly the notion of ‘decay’ evidenced in part through the ciphers of peeling paint, cracked cement, coiled, warped “metal” edges – when and why did these ideas become an important part of your work?

Yes, these ideas are an important and integral part of my work. The industrial landscape has for a long time and on a daily basis been a part of my life so perhaps inevitably I have responded to it and used it as my starting point. What I’ve always been particularly drawn to is opposing and contrasting visual languages when found lying side by side. The linearity and orderliness of these architectural structures, the simplicity of geometry they lay bare may, for example, be bound up with a more complicated language, metaphorically speaking of overgrowing weeds, natural decay, peeling paint and remnants of graffiti. That these opposing languages lie side by side seem to bring each individual language into starker contrast whilst also speaking of an organic, unpremeditated beauty and journey in time. Once these brick walls would have stood proud and strong the steel sheets would have glimmered, the computer motherboards would have been working, (and not discarded in a scrap metal yard), referencing man’s ingenuity and foresight, his hunger to build progressive cities and a better future. And yet as time marches on everything around us shifts and ages taking on a new life of its own. Just as the paint peels, the “metal” warps or the plaster cracks mankind too accrues the unpremeditated scars of life that mould each of us as individuals. And whilst our journeys and “scars” are different what we all know we have in common is the finite end. And to this end these elements speak to me of the human condition and so stand up as metaphors for mankind.

Miranda Donovan, See, Hear and Speak No Evil, Acrylic on motherboard, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Miranda Donovan, See, Hear and Speak No Evil, Acrylic on motherboard, 2014 | © Miranda Donovan. Photo: AJ Photographics, courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

– Harry Dougall

Miranda Donovan, Metaphors For Mankind is on view at CNB Gallery, 13 October – 12 November 2015, 32 Rivington Street London EC2A 3LX, Admission: FREE

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