The first solo show for any young artist must be a nerve-wracking and exhilarating experience, even more so when at one of London's most cutting-edge galleries. But young British artist Miranda Donovan, who finds herself in this very position, is taking it all in her stride. Her exhibition The Lost World of Innocence opened at the Lazarides Gallery in Soho last week to great acclaim. A sure sign of Donovan's very bright future in the art world is the fact that every piece in the exhibition sold before the opening night. We've mentioned Donovan's work before in connection to the Saatchi Gallery Showdown, now that's she progressed from online to in-gallery we decided to find out what's going on behind her landscape scenes.
Congratulations on the success of your first solo show. The exhibition sold out before the opening night, how does that feel?
When told the news I felt overwhelmed and definitely a little weak at the knees! To know that the work I have spent months/years producing has found new homes is an incredibly rewarding feeling.
What does the show's title "Lost World of Innocence" mean to you?
For me Lost World of Innocence refers to aspects of life in contemporary society: the ever increasing expansion of cities across the countryside, the ever present gang/knife culture in our cities today, the "Tesco" capitalist takeover, the "big brother" camera that has become such an intrusive—yet integral—part of our life, the media which infiltrates all layers of society and successfully enforces huge pressure on people to perform and succeed at a young age.
Can you tell us about the concepts behind the different series of paintings in this show?
There are five series of paintings in the show. The Lost World of Innocence Series is where I have painted bucolic Ruisdael landscapes juxtaposed against news clippings of lives tragically and violently lost to knives and guns. My intention was to evoke a feeling of nostalgia, a lost ideal in the viewer whilst also heightening awareness of a serious problem in our cities. In other works e.g. "Too Many," my intention was to be more personal by introducing the viewer, with stark frankness, to the faces of victims lost to violence on our streets.
The pieces in London Streets in most cases are intended to be more humorous, whether it be word play on Al Fayed's shop of "HORRORS," placing graffiti in incongruous places, or telling those at BANK to chill out!
In Scrublands lives are lost, the big brother camera follows us—even here we're asked does capitalism bring happiness? Rules aims to evoke a sense of anarchy by painting/spraying graffiti on rules signs. And lastly, the Isolated series is freer in style, works draw upon emotions of anxiety, loss, isolation and fear.
How did you get interested in graffiti and what's the significance of taking it off the street and into the gallery?
Graffiti first came into my conscience when living down in the South of France outside Marseille. I got to know a graffiti artist whilst living there. Ironically he worked for the Mayor by day and by night went out and sprayed! Although graffiti definitely caught my eye there, it was back in London that I began to incorporate it into my work. There is one particular building, that I call the Lucozade building, which used to be next to the flyover, heading west out of London. Every time I saw it I was fixated by it. It only made sense that I should paint it. It has since been pulled down. Having painted this particular building an obsession with graffiti was born.
The significance of taking graffiti off the street and into the gallery is that it makes people look at it with fresh eyes; graffiti scrawled across our city walls, whether tags or more finished throw ups, is often quickly disregarded as pure vandalism, whilst graffiti in a gallery is accepted as an art form. People's perception of it shifts and in my experience they start to enjoy it and look out for it in their everyday lives. Lets face it, graffiti certainly makes our city streets more colorful!
Can you tell us about the contrasting humorous and political messages in your paintings?
I feel it is important to communicate through art. How one decides to do this is up to the individual. My work aims to communicate messages relating to contemporary life that touch a chord within me. I don't see my work so much as being political, but rather socio-political. Whilst my work does raise serious sociological issues I also feel life needs as much humor as possible. We live serious enough lives as it is.
How is your own cultural heritage reflected in the work?
I am half Dutch, have grown up in Holland, London and in the green fields. Subconsciously each place has in someway infiltrated my work. Whether it be my appropriation and subsequent defacing of 17th century Dutch landscapes, my use of bucolic landscape scenes or London streets. When creating a piece I don't know how the work will turn out. The piece evolves and changes and I go along with it until I feel it works. It is only upon completion that I become consciously aware of aspects of my background coming into my work.
Texture seems increasingly important in your paintings, how has your technique evolved over the last couple of years?
I work a lot on panels measuring 30 x 40 x 5 cm and 40 x 40 x 5 cm, whilst the bigger sizes I currently work with are 140 x 140 x 5 cm. I mention the depth of the panels because I work around the sides blurring the boundaries between object, sculpture and painting. Recently the works have become even more sculptural giving them a highly textured 3-D quality. My aim has been to create something very tactile, yet by framing the pieces in Perspex boxes the viewer is prevented from touching, giving the pieces an almost relic type quality.
How key is the context of the Lazarides Gallery for this exhibition?
The Lazarides Gallery represents graffiti artists and artists whose work engages with street culture. To this end my work fits in to a certain genre which Lazarides has created.
In terms of the appearance of the gallery the context in which my work hangs is key. The walls there have a life, a history, a story to tell in the same way that I aim to create "walls," which speak of a past life. It is not the standard "white cube" we have become so accustomed to in galleries. The "walls" I have created become one with the wall on which they are hung. Yet at the same time the pristine Perspex frames give the work an almost jewel like quality. They encase the work enabling the viewer to differentiate the two.
Who or what are the greatest influences on your work?
All graffiti artists! Jean Michele Basquiat, David Hepher, Anselm Keifer, Nigel Cook, Howard Hodgkin. City streets, whether in London or abroad, and certain rural landscapes that touch the soul and inspire.
What comes next?
The "Second Album!"
Lost World of Innocence
Through 30 May 2008
No 8, Greek Street
W1D 4DG map
tel. +44 (0)203 214 0055