#ArtThursdays: Curtis Donavan - PUBLIC Exhibition
4th February - 27th March
Last week, the Stööki Craft Makers were invited to the opening night of the artist Curtis Donovan's new exhibition in Plumstead, PUBLIC. After the show we got the chance to interview Curtis and hear more about his artistic journey and how the show came about.
Nadia: Okay, cool. So just to start it off, tell us a bit about yourself, who you are and what this exhibition was that you've just put on.
Curtis: So, I’m Curtis Donaven, I’m a painter, an artist, based in SE London. Born in Birmingham. I’ve recently just held an exhibition called ‘PUBLIC’ which took place in Wanstead, South East London.
Nadia: Amazing. I knew I could hear a bit of Birmingham twinge there.
Curtis: Right? Yeah, I've been here for a little bit now..
Nadia: So when did you come to London?
Curtis: In 2013.
Nadia: Nice. Nice. And what brought you to London?
Curtis: Initially, I came down here to study. I got a place to do an MA at Goldsmiths. Basically, after that I just stayed.
Nadia: So what are the works that you're showcasing at the exhibition? What's the story behind them?
Curtis: So the work I'm showing at the exhibition are the collection of works that relate loosely to my life in public as sort of characters in a big play of sorts. It's a play on the fact that the exhibition takes place in the pub, which is also a chance for me to bring together samples of different types of work that have a kind of… what's the word… connected theme to them.
Nadia: And so how did the exhibition come about?
Curtis: I’ve got speaking to the manager and curator of the pub. They started an art sort of programme a few months ago and basically I won a showcase, artist, a local artist. I went to that pub on the off chance for something else and through that got speaking to some of the characters that were there and begin to set the wheels in motion to do my own thing.
Nadia: Amazing. That's so good. So how did you feel about putting an exhibition on independently?
Curtis: It’s something that I’ve done before in different ways and to be honest, I think I don’t acknowledge the things I’m doing. So the independence of this process, I don’t really understand it until something becomes really difficult, I don’t realise it’s a whole team and all this other stuff. I felt fine, I think it was a natural progression to doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Nadia: So you weren’t panicking when it came to putting it on and installing the pieces?
Curtis: Umm, at the installation phase I was not panicking. Um, I think there was a phase a week before where I did panic a little bit but I realised that although I had the work for show, some of them needed frames and I had to kind of look for what frames would be suitable for what works etcetera. I realised that responsibilities can be quite tricky at times.
Nadia: Exactly. See, people don't realise that frames are actually quite hard to find, especially if they're a specific size that is not like the common size.
Curtis: Yeah so, I think one change is the sizing, the other change is the price and the other change is that you want quite decent frames there’s a … that comes with them.
Nadia: So how would you describe the experience of putting on an exhibition by yourself? Like, was there a lot of freedom there, or did you have some restrictions.
Curtis: And restrictions that size? I'm not opposed to the invasiveness of the work. Let's say, in terms of like health and safety. And where it sits in the space.
Curtis: Considering the way the space is used is quite small. It gets quite busy and packed. So I couldn't install it the way that I might have in a bigger, more open space.
Nadia: So do you feel you had to be more strategic with the way you placed things?
Curtis: I wouldn’t say it’s the placement, I just think I’ve had to refine…
Nadia: You know, when we were talking the other night and we were talking about how the exhibition came about and stuff, and then you mentioned the word community. Why was that important for you to host an exhibition that was surrounded by community?
Curtis: For me, it's a big part of what was not previous my most recent day job. But it's also been a focus of mine since my studies and just to rewind a little bit, I was studying in design and one of the focuses to a lot of my projects.. my dissertation was the role that community plays in making a design process, what it is that they would particularly on the built environment. So people having a say in how the area looked. And that's, you know, this is the running theme with a lot of my work. It's not just about me making the work. It's also about the ability for the opportunity for people to get their hands dirty, to try things out or be inspired in whatever way they see fit. If I can kind of trigger somebody to go and make the thing that they want to make, it doesn't have to be, you know, spray paint or whatever. If I can kind of spur you on to meet that feel, to pull that thing out of yourself, then I see myself as a winner in nothing.
Nadia: That's amazing. I love that. So where do you draw your inspiration from?
Curtis: And. A bit of a cheat answer, but from the world.
Nadia: That's not a cheat answer.
Curtis: Okay. When I say that it's the shape, I think for me it inhabits its geography, the landscape, urban landscape, the natural landscape, how those do things kind of. Interfere with each other. Let me see. Sometimes that. As opposed to with each other or working symbiotically, whichever one you want to see it kind of constant change. But that constant change, the conversation is the thing probably is possibly in the work.
Nadia: I love that. So what would you say is your favourite piece that is featured in the exhibition?
Curtis: I'm. I'm not sure yet. I think it’s probably. One of the newer ones. So there's three big pieces towards the back of the room. Arms. There's one called work, and there's one called Save.
Curtis: Yeah, I suppose they represent two two of the main choices that we have in our kind of civilisations that we have in terms of work is another word for labour. Save is another word for concern.
Curtis: So it's and money is the big thing that needs the whole thing spinning around. So it's like we have these two choices from those to all of our talking points and conversations kind of seem to spring from those and everybody has to decide. And obviously in between those two we've got the collector. So he's the one who chooses the mood of the day, and that's the individual, that's the person, a member of the public can kind of choose their soundtrack, choose what they want to take in, but also what they want to put out to the rest of the world. I guess it's always going to be an amalgamation of the two where we see ourselves.
Nadia: So excluding the artwork itself, what was your favourite part about putting on this exhibition?
Curtis: The musical aspect. The venue itself has quite a strong sort of musical presence in the area in terms of. Showcasing a lot of bands from local and further afield. And on top of that, they've got like the open mic stuff and they've got Vinyl Night as well, which is going to show on.
Nadia: Yeah, that was really cool. Watching him switch the Vinyls was nice because you don't see that often nowadays.
Curtis: So it's kind of like a listening experience, but it's also a spectacle as well. Yeah, you see that kind of craft still taking place. So for me, I think definitely music and the energy of music happening alongside this album. It's what I mainly listen to when I'm doing my work.
Nadia: What did you least enjoy about putting on the exhibition?
Curtis: To be honest, this one ran smooth. I think it's because I planned it quite well, there wasn't something that I least enjoyed.
Nadia: So it was all positive?
Curtis: I mean there are aspects to it, in general, but yeah...
Nadia: Would you say it was a hard challenge for you to bring people down? Or was it easy?
Curtis: It was the not knowing before the day, there was a tube thing which I only realised on the day. There was a train strike.
Nadia: What is your opinion on the venue that you hosted at and the surrounding area?
Curtis: I loved the venue... it's a new-ish place for me. I've only gone there for the last 4 months or so. It's a great place full of energy and nice diverse mix of people that go there as well which is also good to see. The area itself is nice itself, that side of London is very village-y. Yeah it's up on a huge hill. It's kinda where London begins to get a bit hill-y. It's very, very local.
Nadia: I think it was a good shout for an exhibition because as you said it was very local, but I think that had a nice touch to it because when I was walking on the high-street, it just reminded me of my area because it felt so local.