Welcome back for Part 2 in our chat with Art Donovan, steampunk author, artist and curator.
Part One can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: Who are the people you admire and how do they influence you and your work?
Art Donovan: My wife, Leslie, above all. Her sublime sense of design, fashion and her ability to “read” a client and project is dazzling to me to this day. She was a consultant for Yves Saint Laurent, Guy Laroche and Jagger on Madison Ave. She has a true and sublime sense of European couture and elegance- but with a genuine and unique “edge” to everything she does. She is the greatest muse for my work but more importantly, to keep me from going “off the rails” when it comes to projects.
AA: That is so great to have someone like Leslie to not only support you but also gently reign you in when needed. Why steampunk? What is it that captures your attention and imagination?
AD: The physical, antique beauty. The hand wrought details. The wonder of science’s industrial form.
I still fully believe that Steampunk is the most exciting and important genre of art and design to come along in decades. (I have lived through the fun and mostly awful styles from the 50’s through today and I have an encyclopedic knowledge of how those eras looked in their historic reality.)
Steampunk is the first globally popular genre to seriously re-examine the classic design in a magnificently creative way.
‘The tyranny of contemporary modernism’ has reigned unchallenged for over 30 years! Enough already with “clean, sleek” design. We get it! We’re Futuristic! Well, it was time that young artists go back to the great classic roots of art and design and redefine what is TRULY modern- And they did with Steampunk 🙂
AA: That is such a great way to look at the aesthetic and the substance to what it is in design today. You said the following in an interview with enLIGHTenment , “My style is always evolving. I’ve always tried to zag when everyone else was zigging. It’s about finding something different.” With that in mind, how do you go about creating that difference? How do you build on experience and education and build something new?
AD: I have used that technique forever as a designer, art director and business owner. It means to deconstruct or change out the elements or components of a design that the other artists are using as immutable standards. If everyone else is using metal- try wood. If colors are pastel and pale- go neon. If you often visit the big design sites (you know who they are) you may see everyone using felt and concrete for lighting, home furnishings, etc. If you continue to see these same materials and design configurations over and over on these sites, you can be assured that it’s time to try something different. Sure, you can always do the expected and status quo –but just like the dull and predictable results gleaned from mass-market research and focus groups, you will never stand out or succeed in a really big way.
AA: The second part of that quote is, “You don’t need a Donovan Design lamp, but you certainly may want one.” I may beg to differ because I know I want one, but I think I need one, too, in my collection of all things steampunk. Let’s start with the Siddhartha lamp. It was one of your first steampunk works, and one of the first that I saw from you. It’s not just functional, but clearly a work of art. What can you share about the journey to design and build it?
AD: It was three months to design and build (I think!) and my very first Steampunk design, 2007.
I kept adding details, parts and hand-painted elements to it. But the craziest part was when I had all of the separate components ready to be assembled into one piece. I was scared to death because seeing it in tiny sketch form and seeing it in completed into a 5’ tall piece are two different things. I didn’t really know what the hell it would look like until I finished it and hung it up from the ceiling in my gallery.
AA: That’s a great story, and I’m going to be all fan-boy about Siddhartha because it’s one of my absolute favorites. Let’s talk about some of your other work, such as the Grand Master?
AD: A commission. Really large because it was to be displayed in a client’s restored 1772 barn.
The client loved steampunk and I took a chance with all of the scientific elements. I made it a bit more detailed with lots of clockwork elements and recalibrated dials for them. Again, it had to be completely disassembled and reassembled on-site and that is one of the most difficult parts of any project.
It’s called “SEQUENCE”. Sequence is how all of the parts will properly assemble and fit together without getting in each other’s physical or mechanical way. It is especially difficult when the client/owner needs easy access for re-lamping bulbs, resetting clock hands and replacing batteries. This is the part that requires the most amount of effort and thought. With all complex pieces, endless nights are spent awake trying to figure out proper sequence and, at 4:30 in the morning, it hits you J
AA: And “Petite Cosmo” Moon Phase Lamp?
AD: Yes. Small footprint! Astronomical-like. Kind of like an orrery with all circular and symmetrical elements.
AA: Just one more – The Astronomer’s Lamp?
AD: Originally done as a “One-Off”. But I’ve made many since with small variations. (I enjoy painting the white dome with a moon-crater effect.) The two frosted disks imply the rings of Saturn.
We’ll break here in our chat with Art Donovan.
Join us for Part 3 where Art talks about the Oxford and South Korea museum exhibits.
Keep up to date with him on his website and his blog.
More information is also available on his page in The Steampunk Museum