Sunday, December 21, 2008

Interview with Bill Donovan

I urge all of you to come out and see this show before it comes down December 27th. If you are unaware, this is the last show TRANSMISSION will be hosting at this location (321 Brook Rd. Richmond, VA 23220). I am proud to present the work of Bill Donovan and Jamie Boling in the gallery as a "last show". Stay tuned to hear about TRANSMISSION's future! This is not the end. For now, enjoy this interview with Bill Donovan, and look for an interview with Jamie Boling in the next few days to be posted here.

Bret Payne: Encoding seems to be an important aspect of your work. To share your interior world, many of the people/things you are thinking about change visual form.

Bill Donovan: I think your premise is true: I am encoding my interior world with cartoon characters. The characters and the pictorial spaces all relate to a place, person, situation, or feeling.

I started making these while on guard duty in Kandahar Afghanistan. Previously I had made work from sources like photos, or drawn from life. In Kandahar I was forced to use my imagination, and because of the stress of being in a combat zone – where I regularly saw machine gun fights, heard/felt/saw explosions, heard bullets zip by; I started to sublimate my feelings into these manic cartoon characters. I started to identify with them, and now I feel as close to them as I do real people. They are my language, for now. I think it is growing.


One thing about encoding is that until the industrial revolution all art was heavily encoded. You can’t understand Egyptian art without knowing that the Pharaohs are part symbol and part portrait, they have to be represented stiffly and much larger than the other characters in both paintings and relief sculptures. Regular people in Egyptian art can be represented dynamically, and are usually performing a job. With the Pharaoh it’s almost as if bees were representing the Queen bee, the Pharaoh is part man, part god, the high priest, and also functions as the living representation of the Sun to the Egyptians. When Egyptians looked at their art all that stuff came through, there all are kinds of codes and signs.

Since the industrial revolution painting became a lot more concerned about claiming its own distinct identity, and I feel has become a lot more careless with signs and encoding meaning. For instance, for an artist like David Salle to have been important, you almost have to not understand that pictures from the Northern Renaissance had more references, more specificity, and were just as fantastic in their range of imagery.


BP: You have recently been attempting to meld your pieces about current events with your interior world. Are the current events undergoing a similar visual encoding? If so, where could a viewer go to help them translate the imagery?

BD: Current events… I have been overwhelmed with current events during the last 7 or 8 years. Every time I looked up it seemed the world was getting crazier. I became aware of a huge disconnect between mainstream media and actual events as a soldier, and it made me into a “paranoid” person. I don’t think it was unjustified.

In the large drawing, Thinking Map, I drew people who were influencing my intellectual worldview. It was partly an experiment to see if I was coherent. The people in that painting/drawing are: clockwise from 1 o’clock; Dan Reeder, Dave Eggers, Francis Fukuyama, Alex Jones, Donald Coxeter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Buckminster Fuller, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Jad Abumrad, and Action Dan Harrington.


BP: Some of your compositions consist of "separate" drawings which are then arranged together in shapes that resemble pyramids or totem poles. Can you describe the moment and the influences that inspired this way of making compositions?

I was thinking of them as collages, but I guess they are more like arranged drawings. Your description is better than mine.

I was influenced by Diana Cooper. I have been working as her intern and now assistant for about a year, and seeing how Diana, who has a studio practice who has a studio practice that is completely mature plus hyper energized, makes work that changed the way I think about drawing. Now I think about drawing in terms of sculptural form as well as a flat image.

Going back to encoding: I think arranging the drawings adds context to the coded characters. They benefit from being next to other versions of themselves.


BP: Are some of these components set (i.e. "Ann Lee") and others interchangeable?

BD: Yes, they live next to each other like Legos building blocks. Some make more sense next to each other than others…

Pictured above: "Ann Lee" by Bill Donovan

BP: Your interest in Roman coins seems directly linked to your art making. You utilize in your paintings/drawings many of the symbols that were used by the Romans. Do these images act as different, personal symbols in your work?

BD: I didn’t realize until answering your questions Bret how much of my studio practice started in Afghanistan. I found out about Roman coins from the Flea Market vendors in Kandahar. Initially the ancient coins I saw were Indo-Kushan, Baktrian, and Sassanian; but Roman coins are more plentiful and easier for an English speaking person to understand. Latin (on Roman coins) is pretty straightforward and beautiful.

1 comment:

LEON said...

Bill Donovan is an eternal inspiration.
Thanks for interviewing him for us.