Q: How long have you been an artist? Please tell us a little about your chosen medium.
A: I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. There was a moment where I thought I’d be a good meteorologist, but I ultimately stuck with art as my career.
I work in a variety of different media, but the glue of it all is the digital workspace. It appealed to me when I was young, in part, because it was a new frontier. Digitally generated or manipulated art continues to be controversial because it doesn’t yet have the deep, historic roots that older mediums have.
Q: Have you been trained, and if so from what institution? Or are you self taught?
A: I spent some time at tiny, now abandoned, art school named White Pines and then finished up my degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology focused on Commercial Photography. I gained allot of technical knowledge there about film photography that was already becoming irrelevant career-wise, but was useful as a foundation for photography. As far as Photoshop goes, I’m self taught.
I would study manuals and training books in my downtime at school and work it into any assignment I could. I eventually used those skills to become a professional commercial artist.
A professor at RIT, named Jeff Weiss, had some meaningful conversations with me when I was struggling with my work after my parents had died. He tried to get me to think of art in a much wider scope than I had been and to be interested in more than the craft of creating it. It took many years for me to let myself grow in that way.
Q: What inspires your creations?
A: My life. My art is the expression of the life I live; the things I can’t find words for that I often didn’t know I needed to say. When I try to consciously make a point with my art, I often fail. It’s contrived. The creative process then feels sick and joyless. This is because after having had the idea, the best I can hope for in pursuing it further is replication. That’s not really what I know art to be now. Working from my instincts is pure exploration.
When I was young, I hated when artists talked like this. It seemed so obtuse and phony. It took me many years to figure out what some of them were talking about.
Q: Was your family supportive of your artistic endeavors?
A: Yes, I was very fortunate. My mom was very crafty and supported me in any creative outlet I wanted to pursue. Her camera was my first camera, her guitar was my first guitar. My dad, while not oppositional to my art, was not an easy sell. He didn’t listen to music and asked me once if I could explain why art mattered. At the time, I couldn’t.
He was an electrician who migrated to computing and wrote RIP software for newspaper presses. He created the first one for a full color newspaper. He’d often bring home computers for work. One day, one of those computers had a copy of Photoshop 1.5 loaded on it. It essentially just had a paint brush, an eyedropper, a lasso tool and a single undo. He let me play around with it and the image files that had been left on it. That summer I mowed lawns and did odd jobs, not to save up for a car like a normal kid, but a UMAX 300dpi optical scanner, so I could start scanning my own images into Photoshop. I began working hard to learn the software and from then on I had my dad’s support in becoming a professional artist. Though I still wonder if he’d believe I followed in his footsteps and went into business for myself.
Q: Is there someone special who has encouraged your work and your path as an artist?
A: Mom. Always. She’d sign me up for classes. She helped me get me the tools and books I needed. She didn’t give me a hard time when I’d try to make a puppet movie in place of an essay. Never criticized my absurd fashion choices. Didn’t question me when I began to focus on nudes. I was very lucky to have her. She was gone before she could see much of the result of her nurturing.
Q: What are your hopes and dreams or future goals?
A: To continue having hopes and dreams. Most people seem to lose those over time. With my art and my life, I’ve had moments where I felt like I’ve found the end of the road. When that happens I change my point of view. I bend just enough not to break and a new path emerges. One that is fresh and exciting.
Q: If you could do any project with full funding what would it be?
A: I’d record an album. It’s easy to keep up with my visual art, because I use most of those skills daily to pay my bills. I really have to switch gears to make music and that is time-consuming. There’s alot I can only get out through music and wish I had the time to make something more polished.
Q: If you could meet any artist who is no longer living, who would it be and why?
A: I was fortunate enough to meet a few artists that I admired when I was younger and I will say that there isnt necessarily any correlation between the personality of an artist and their art. A good artist puts allot of themselves into their art. Consequently some qualities you admire about the art might be lacking or altogether absent from the artist. It’s a total crap shoot.
If I was gonna roll the dice on anyone it might be Frida Khalo or Zdzisław Beksiński.
To find that Khalo didn’t live up to her myth would be heartbreaking, but I don’t know alot about Beksiński. Years ago, in the earlier days of the internet, a fan sent me an email that I couldn’t read. I believe it was in Polish, it was very long and she had a lo-res photo of herself (I presume) with my last name written across her chest in red. This was before google translate so I never found out what the message said. There was a link in the message and it was to beksinksi.pl. I followed it and there was an interesting animation with the name in the top left corner, but the rest of the site was broken. Searches turned up nothing and I forgot about it. Years passed and I heard that name again, ‘Beksiński’, from someone in passing. I Googled it and there was his site but this time with all his beautiful work. I felt an immediate kinship with it all and began to read up on him only to learn that he’d been recently shot. I’d like to have met him.
Q: Tell us about the ghostly elements in your art?
A: I think of things like blurred motion as a place to search for something I can’t see with my eye or something I could not have imagined if I tried. Like dumpster diving.
In many of these images selected here, I’m using cloth to obscure the models features. In a sense, I’m using the cloth as a sort of noise to reduce the clarity of the subject’s features, so that the imagination begins to fill in the absent details. Noise is very important to me in art. It’s where all the poetry is and the point of engagement for me in my own work.
Q: Have these sort of haunting themes always been of interest to you?
A: I spend allot of time with my images and each needs to be memorable to me before I can let it be done. However my sensibilities change and grow, sometimes very rapidly. Something that seemed haunting and poignant to me yesterday, might seem pretty and polite today. It can happen in the middle of a piece and the work is be abandoned.
Q: Have you ever seen a ghost?
A: No. I’m an obnoxiously logical person. When I was a child I remember sitting frozen in my parent’s bed for hours after having seen two glowing eyes across the room. They later turned out to be part of a toy my mom had brought home from work and left on a shelf. As an adult I experienced sleep paralysis during a prolonged power outage and believed I was being dragged away by shadowy men. I later realized they were my own eye lashes. I see faces and hear voices in the natural noise of the world, as we have all evolved to do. It’s impossible for a living thing to understand death and peace because it is antithetical to our state of being. Consequently, people get really creative when it comes to avoiding the prospect of becoming dirt. I am a lot of fun at parties.
However +1 for cognitive dissonance..
My mom died at home. My dad became very sick and arranged for the sale of our home while he could because my sister and I were still young. The people who were to buy it took advantage of my dad’s fragile position multiple times. They threatened to back out at the last minute, constantly renegotiating , driving down the price and otherwise making things unreasonably difficult for someone with so much else on his mind.
Soon my dad had passed in hospice with my sister and I each holding him by the hand. The family home had sold and my sister and I had moved out. Before we left, my sister and I gifted some family mementos to the new owners 1) a life size doll of a toddler which we hung inside the chimney which swayed slow and perpetual from a noose. 2) a life-sized ceramic cat with horrifying, Mona Lisa eyes that we placed at the edge of the woods staring back at the house. 3) a friendly reminder written on the attic wall in thick black sharpie that simply read, ”We were here first.”
Maybe a couple years passed and we heard from our former neighbors that strange things had happened at our old home. Not the least of which was a contractor who ran out of the house in fear and screaming. The house was abruptly sold.
I don’t believe in ghosts.
I don’t know what happened in that house.
I do know that my mom haunted the hell out of those people.
Christopher Lee Donovan is a featured artist in the Specter Issue of the Miroir Magazine.
Christopher Lee Donovan’s website: christopherleedonovan.com