With her first show "Lost World of Innocence" (2008) selling out before she even arrived for the private view and several pieces from the second show, "The Home Unleashed" (2011), bought up by British art collector of the moment Frank Cohen, Miranda Donovan has established credibility as one of a stable of street artists represented by Lazarides Art.
With her new body of work Donovan dramatically scales up her subject of choice to bring life size bricks and mortar into the gallery space. This show marks a logical progression and expansion of a career that has been unswervingly focused on the aesthetic details of that most basic of manmade structures—the humble wall. It also appears to be an unconscious play on the extraordinary value given in recent times to street art and the phenomenon of disappearing Banksy works.
We spoke to Donovan at The Outsiders Gallery this week, just before the show opened, and she took time to elaborate on her creative process in the building up and breaking down of not just physical but also psychological barriers.
"The point of departure is a wall, which so often people just overlook," she says. "It's something in our daily space constantly, internally and externally, and there's a romanticism in that, which draws me in. The different combination of languages, the grid, the broken plaster breaking up that grid, the colors, the erosion, is something that really excites me. It's about combining those languages to tell a story about the passage of time and the analogy of the human psyche, peeling back the onion layers to find the core."
At first sight this new collection of sculptural paintings blasts the gallery space with a riot of color and texture. It's a bold and uplifting impression but, as Donovan says, it's the details and layers of each work that really gives them depth—both physically, being a full sized brick deep, and in the less tangible sphere of our minds. How do our daily spaces change over generations and what can they tell us about our shared, overlapping histories. What's hidden behind the surface of today?
Donovan grabbed the attention of the art world with her integration of graffiti into the refined world of landscape painting with her first solo show and the vandalized interiors of the second. These contrasting visual languages, and the elevation of street art to the gallery space, was met with intrigue by many. This new work however, although unmistakably urban in aesthetic, signifies a departure from the specifics of graffiti and focuses more on the action of making one's mark.
On the eve of her latest show, Donovan considers the trajectory of her work thus far: "The first show in 2008 showed miniature bijou, recognizable street scenes with splashes of graffiti in incongruous places. Then with the last show I went down quite a different avenue, because it went internal, it went into decayed interiors and opulent splendour that once was. Now I look back, I realize I wanted to make life size brick wall pieces at that point, but I got side tracked by the enjoyment of sculpting minute detail, rather than painting. Now with this body of work I've come back to creating the impression of something being literally carved out of the street and put on a wall."
Viewers may well question whether they are looking at real walls in the Outsiders Gallery—such is the hyper-real nature of Donovan's work—but she is quick to point out that everything is fabricated. Technically the works are astonishingly sophisticated, and yet she is not a slave to perfection. In the pursuit of ever more life like effects she has recently taken to beating up her works when they are finished. Doesn't she ever worry about taking it too far?
"Ah the cracking," she says. "Yes, once the paint's dry I take a hammer or a chisel to the surface. Sometimes I stand on them, sometimes I jump on them. I've tried to become far less precious about it, because if I mess it up I can always rebuild it. Or if it comes to it, start again."
The cracks and punctures in the walls' surfaces tell a story of aging, weather-beaten structures and even human destruction. They also evoke the modernist work of Lucio Fontana who became famous for slicing open and punching holes in his canvases. As contemporary as Donovan's work appears there is always an interesting reflection of art history in her work, from her earlier influences of 17th-century Dutch landscapes to today's evocation of the abstract expressionist colorists, as well as the strongly textured work of Jean Dubuffet and Anselm Kiefer.
As for possibly tiring of her subject, or bricking herself in, so to speak, Donovan says she isn't there yet. "Even with a really ugly wall there's something about it that I just find really appealing," she says. "I think it's because it's a still life, in a way. It's made by man, but man isn't present. Apart from the marks left, there's no literal presence of man, but there's an analogy too." Donovan's passion and conviction make it clear that she's nowhere close to the limits of what the wall can offer her creative drive. "I feel there are so many avenues with it, because it gives me the licence to use color, build up texture, work with different languages. I find with this subject matter there are no constraints. I could make a huge free standing installation or paint a painting, it can go off in so many different directions."
We look forward to seeing the paths she reconstructs next. You can watch Miranda Donovan at work in a short film by Dominic Sutherland of Next Shoot in 2011. To see "Walls" you can visit The Outsiders Gallery 22 March - 20 April 2013.
Images by Leonora Oppenheim.