at Origin Gallery from 7th April 2017
Donovan – SAPPHOGRAPHS
by Chris Murray, The Govinda Gallery, Washington D.C.
I have deeply appreciated and enjoyed the poetry and music of Donovan since he first emerged on the cultural scene in the 1960s. His creative energy has been an inspiration to me in many ways. It was my good fortune to meet Donovan in Washington, D.C. in 1967 after one of his extraordinary concert performances. My meeting Donovan was memorable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was he gave me a drawing he made that very day. I still have the drawing.
Since that time of first meeting Donovan, my own work as a curator of exhibitions and editor and author of a number of books developed. Though I consider myself as informed and as knowledgeable about Donovan’s artistry as anyone, I was very interested to learn not so long ago that Donovan counts Sappho and her poetry as one of his greatest inspirations. Sappho (7th century B.C.E.) is regarded as the pre-eminent lyric poet of ancient Greece.
One day while I was visiting Donovan and his wife Linda at their home in Ireland he showed me a series of visual images he had created that he aptly named ‘Sapphographs.’ I was intrigued and drawn to these beautiful works of art. They were based on a group of photographs that Donovan had taken, using as models for the pictures his muse and wife Linda, his daughter Oriole and her friend Lizzie. Also appearing in the Sapphographs are his daughter Astrella and grandson Sebastian and their friend Lizzie. Donovan then utilized a number of techniques to transform the photographs into the series of works of art on paper that are in this exhibition at Origin Gallery.
Sappho has been represented and reinterpreted through many artistic mediums since her own time, over 2,500 years ago, up to today. Depicted by some of the greatest painters in museums throughout the world, in illuminated manuscripts, by playwrights, in novels, in fashion, in ballet, and in popular music, Sappho has been updated in different times in different ways. Donovan’s Sapphographs are perhaps, the finest contemporary visual homage to Sappho. The lyrics poets of ancient Greece would sing their poems while accompanying themselves on stringed instruments. It is significant to note that in our own time, Donovan is considered to be one of our greatest lyric poets. Inspired by the lyric poetry of Sappho, Donovan captures in visual form the mythic beauty of this ancient artistic tradition. Donovan’s Sapphographs evoke the aesthetic sensuality of nature and the power of its rituals to inspire artistic creation.
Donovan Artist Statement…
I took photographs on a classic Rolliflex non-digital camera with roll film. The models are my wife and muse Linda, my daughters Oriole and Astrella and grandson Sebastian and our friend Lizzie, all dressed as in a Greek Play. When developed I had the work printed and I blacked the blacks and whitened the whites. Like Man Ray and his Rayographs my works are more than photos, so I title them SAPPHOGRAPHS. The theme is the timeless poetry of Sappho, the 6th Century B.C. female poet of Ancient Greece. As a Poet myself the theme suited my art.
Granddaughter of Donovan and Linda
THE BEGINNING – Iridescence
“There has always been a struggle with my self expression. There is the kind that comes and goes like breath, inhale and exhale, it’s so natural I almost forgot that I am doing it. And then there is the kind that builds up inside of me, it starts to create a fire in the pit of my stomach and the worst part about that kind of expression is when I find my self brewing in my stagnancy. It’s in those moments I almost find it impossible to channel the fire outward into the air. Pen and paper appear lifeless. In those moments life seems almost stale but the brewing of the subconscious mind is still working up a storm and as I struggle trying to find a way to release it I find myself thinking, I don’t want to draw, I don’t want to write, I want to project my innermost everything in expression that exceeds those of mortal boundaries and with that I conjure up an almost impossible goal and I feel as though I have failed in some sense.”
“Where did my creativity go… Why can I feel it smoulder somewhere deep in my bones. Why can I not touch it and hold it in my arms, throw it at the walls and kick it into the night sky. It escapes me. It lives in me. It is Vesuvius and I am Pompeii. Ignorantly I await for it to destroy my entire edifice and bury me under its hot molten lava.”
Coco Sian ‘The Hermit’, Oil on canvas, 50 x 60cm
“And that’s exactly it, it’s though I am waiting for this eruption but the truth is I’m completely unaware of when it will happen, so waiting is futile, and living is absolutely necessary. When that mould finally does break through, the fire burns me up and I become the ashes of the past, and that’s where I create a foundation for something new to grow. I’m struck open and the creativity starts pouring out. For the past eight years I have gone through ups and downs of creative eruptions, bouts of poetry there and stacks of drawings here.
Now I have taken this creative evolution to the next step, treading in unknown waters somewhat feared. I have picked up a paintbrush, a canvas, and some oil colours and I have become their student and they are teaching me things I never understood about art and colour. The beginning of this new creative cycle in my life is underway.”
Check out the story featured in LIVING magazine. Click here.
Show extended until April 25th 2017