1.- The interviewee
Born and raised in New York City, Art Donovan is an artist, designer and museum curator with a lengthy career in the arts. From 1980 to 1990 he was the senior designer and head illustrator for Donald Deskey Associates, NYC. Since 1990, he has specialized in hand crafting custom lighting and illuminated sculptural objects for his company, Donovan Design, with the support of her business partner and wife Leslie Tarbell Donovan as President of Donovan Design and owner of Staging Places.
2.- Steampunk Art
Q.- Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that you came across Steampunk by accident in 2007. It combines many of your interests: science fact, speculative fiction, early sci-fi films, history, antique technologies, Jules Verne novels… What does Steampunk mean for you? Do you have your own definition?
Art Donovan (AD).- Personally, Steampunk is an artistic license- a freedom to approach a discipline, such a lighting design, in ways that would never previously have been accepted in the industries of interior design or architecture. In the very recent past, if one had produced a steampunk-looking design, it would have been solely considered an assemblage or sculptural work. But since the genre has gone “viral” among so many designers, it can now be considered a viable alternative. In architecture, interior design and product design, all involved were on the lookout for “the next big thing”- the new style that would up end everything before it. I believe this has actually happened. By re-tooling the visual language of the 19th century and combining it with contemporary sensibilities, Steampunk, in all of its varied forms, has been the first style to challenge the tyranny of contemporary modernism in many decades. I don’t have a strict definition of Steampunk, as the genre is still evolving. But because of the deep and historic well from which Steampunk draws its inspiration, I believe that it will prove to be a most robust and durable style of art and design.
Q.- Do you think that it could be considered a subculture at present?
AD.- In late 2013, there is still a very strong ‘underground’ element about Steampunk artists and enthusiasts. “Underground” being understood here as a movement that is not universally known or not generally understood in common terms.
Q.- IBM predicted some months ago that Steampunk is about to break into the mainstream. Do you see this happening? Which opportunities and threatens would arise from this phenomena?
AD. -In the previous three years or so, mass market retailers have attempted to sell Steampunk-like objects of one sort or another, but they always seem to be false starts or attempts. When they take Steampunk objects out of the context of their best venues, such as conventions and art exhibitions and place them in a big box retail environment, the objects look misplaced- almost forlorn. I am sure the retailers will continue to be influenced by Steampunk design, but they create these offerings without any passion… and it shows! Many retailers see Steampunk as an opportunity to “re-dress” their usual product line with the hopes of infusing it with something new and exciting.