Interview with an artist – Pen Donovan

PenBorn and raised in New Zealand. Art school. Moved to Australia in 1986. Right now working on two series – abstract. Delving into form and colour, throwing in a little ambiguity. Currently an obsession with water, nature and sensuality. I work in acrylic. Have been painting traffic boxes just to get my work into the public domain. Now I am transferring some of these to canvas.

How long have you been an artist for Pen?

Well this is a difficult question because to tell you the truth I don’t feel like an artist yet. For one thing I am not earning enough income as an artist to cover living costs therefore I haven’t ‘made it’ yet. If other people see me as an artist that’s great but I’m still doing an apprenticeship. It’s good to feel a sense of still practising. It relieves performance anxiety.

I did a Fine Art Diploma way back. Over the years I would dabble a bit just to reassure myself I was up to it. It wasn’t until I was well into my forties that I realised I had to always have a painting on the go for my mental well-being. I made myself have a solo exhibition before I turned fifty just to prove I could do it. Now I am half-way through the ten-year apprenticeship it takes to get good at anything.

Tell us about your first attempts to be creative?

Well it’s too far back to remember. My parents must have seen a propensity for it as they sent me to a Saturday morning art class when I was seven years old. I can’t even say that from a young age I drew all the time. I have been incredibly lazy all my life. And too easily distracted by other things – being good, saving the world, domestic life  and getting money to pay the rent.

Could you tell us some more about your work?

I am on several different tracks right now – abstracts, recording my environment and traffic boxes. I like a little ambiguity. I want to paint a lot of abstracts. For an artist everything is ‘an abstract’, just a weird mash up of colour and form. In painting ‘real’ things I am still trying to follow Brett Whitley’s advice, to’ steal, lie and distort.’

What artists have influenced you, and how?

Anyone good. Lots of them. All of them. Artist’s are influenced by everything and everyone. We pinch ideas from all over. John Coburn, abstract painter – leaves – he makes the surface interesting. William Robinson – clever, painting the sky and the forest floor in the one pic. Picasso for not being a cookie cutter, Hockney for the same reason – ,just doing what he wants. Matisse, colour and form, Van Gogh for pushing colour and graphic style, Margaret Olley for just doing the one thing and working until she dropped. And then Aboriginal women artists for their steady adherence to their stories and their quiet methodical manner. For the profound connection with the natural world. I could go on.

How do you recharge when your creativity hits the wall?

I go to bed. I drink a fresh coffee every day to stay ‘up’. I try not to be too intense about it.  I talk to artist friends. I visit galleries.

What has been your most exciting moment as an artist?

Winning the Artforce Award in 2010. I had painted a lot of traffic boxes over two years and the judges that year liked them. Score.

What are your artistic goals?

To paint a lot. To earn a living painting pictures. To gain strength as an artist. To generate the necessary pull-through (people buying) that will make me work harder. Because my push-through is lousy – if someone wants my paintings I can’t wait to paint, if no-one’s buying I lose spirit and waste time.

Could you talk about your latest series of paintings and what you are trying to achieve with them?

I’m giving the abstracts a rest. I’ve almost finished ten pics of the flat I live in. A commission. (It relieved me of the torture of job-hunting for a few weeks.) In recording my world I’m learning to produce an artwork as opposed to a picture.

Finally, what other interests do you have outside of painting?

All of them, everything. I am very easily distracted. Unfortunately. I tend to give 100% to whatever is in front of me at any one time. So when I get a job, whether it’s sorting mail, waiting tables or graphic design  – and now a teacher aide, I am totally involved. Great for my employer but an incredible waste of my time as an artist. I want to be paid to paint.

To view more of Pen’s art, click here.


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