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Spotlight: Miranda Donovan

Updated: May 23

"The genesis of every painting I make is a wall."

Miranda Donovan

Journey, Oil, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 50 x 70 cm

Miranda Donovan paints walls. Fragments of the city formed of fading layers, textures and colours. They speak of histories collapsed onto a surface, and frame the road less travelled: walls once bright with paint now perhaps overlooked on our way out of town. Every piece is rendered in exquisite photorealistic detail, forged in her Willesden Junction studio where Donovan has developed a unique process of building up acrylic and oil over building materials mixed with poIymers. Combining techniques of the construction trade with notes of Surrealism and Street Art, she evokes incredibly unique and beautiful urban landscapes.

Donovan's style of painting landed her instant success after graduating from City and Guilds in 2005, when Nick Woolff was one of the first to recognise her works as ‘pulling away at the sides’ of what contemporary painting was then all about. Within a year, she was picked up by Banksy’s former agent Lazarides Gallery, and has featured in several prominent art galleries, major auction houses and exhibitions ever since.

Her works are no stranger to the established rostra of art world names, exhibiting with Christie’s, Frieze and Sotheby’s New York, where she was featured as a Highlight of Contemporary Street Art in 2021. With such an impressive list of public and private collections under her belt (Soho House, House of Koko, Groucho Club, Frank Cohen, the Mugrabis, Mark Hix, Stephen Webster and the Khalili brothers to name a few), and an equally enviable list of co-exhibitors (Ai Wei Wei, David Hockney, Anthony Gormley, Grayson Perry, Maggie Hambling and Julian Opie), she returns to Woolff Gallery this May with a collection of works which have never before been exhibited. 

Confronting Fears, Acrylic, oil, and mixed media on Rosaspina paper in perspex box, 50 x 70 cm

Two judge-like figures bear witness to a barn flooded in a mysterious, almost welcoming darkness. Left unguarded, the viewer is invited to roam.

As a formidable contemporary painter, Donovan challenges the notion that opposites are unrelated. She bridges together notions of public and private, urban and rural, order and chaos, beauty and decay, into her signature wall pieces. Yet Genesis builds in a fascinating new way on what came before. Lurking in the very fabric of these constructed paintings are surreal-like figures: mechanical characters accompanied by hidden messages which seem to emerge from her subconscious to call on the constructions we create in ourselves. Although they belong very much to her world, they equally represent archetypal roles we may all relate to: the rebel, the dancer, the judge, the fawn - each one distinct to their built environment.

Left: Reach for the Stars, oil and mixed media on birch ply, 122 x 93.8 cm 

Right: Inner Voice, oil and mixed media on canvas, 130 x 130 cm

Plastered to the walls, depicted strolling, jumping, or even just observing, these black and white figures made their way into Donovan’s work in 2017, and together, they form a family of characters which Donovan cites arose out of her experience of IFS therapy (Internal Family Systems). These machine-like humanoids herald uplifting slogans such as ‘Choose Love’ or ‘Take Your Own Time,’ ‘Stay in Trust’ or ‘Time to Break Free' - orders which are deliberately ambiguous: “I want them to be latent reminders of the things we say to ourselves,” she says, blending them into her walls as if they were popular posters for a past event refusing to be wiped off.

Always Choose Love, Acrylic and mixed media on Rosaspina paper in perspex box, 50 x 70 cm

Always Choose Love, like many of her mixed-media works on canvas, board, or Rosaspina paper, is an urban still-life in a state of joyful disrepair. Donovan cites Dutch Golden Age masters Jacob van Ruisdael and Pieter de Hooch as inspiration, visible in the work’s low-hanging horizon, but equally, because each painting is imbued with a certain richness of light. This magical glow was picked up from childhood summers spent in Gozo and as a young art student in Aix-en-Provence.

As the viewer, we want to enter it, following her stairways and tunnels into brighter cul-de-sacs and ‘New Worlds’ (always read the graffiti). We might think this to be an abandoned neighbourhood, with its tangle of telephone wires and exposed concrete, but it is far from it. It is a home for our past lives, our hopes and our dreams, always accompanied by one of Donovan’s figures playfully pointing us towards the light. 

Mental Strength, Oil, acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 180 x 130 cm                

Trust, Acrylic & mixed media on cardboard in perspex frame, 33 x 28 cm

Seeing these works in the flesh, it’s hard not to ask why we haven’t always associated beauty with decay, or the urban with the rural, and why indeed we relate to one particular piece over another. Through Donovan, we get a glimpse of the genesis of contrasts which we live in, both as people with multiple internal lives, and as a wider population in London’s ever-growing patchwork of new and neglected builds. It is no wonder she also cites Anselm Kiefer and Sean Scully as inspirations, for these too are highly-structured collages of paint, rooted though they are in a cool, calm otherworldliness. ‘Genesis’ is on show at Woolff Gallery from the 22nd May to the 12th June 2024 - the gallery is delighted to have such a seminal and collectible painter back on board. 


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