Artist Donal Sturt’s quest to make the art world accessible

13 November 2017

Earlier this year, Donal Sturt curated stripped back monochromatic group exhibition, Laetus. Next month, the artist is back with an altogether more colourful offering. The product of a six month-long residency at Sarabande: The Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, Donal’s upcoming exhibition Now by Me, which will open 1 December, sees the artist reinterpreting 16 of your favourite artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Cy Twombly, Laura Owens and Damien Hirst.

Donal blends his own hand with digitally generated lines by using computer programs and then rendering them with paints, lacquer or varnishes in eye-catching primary colours. The self-taught artist tells us that lately, he has been in a haze of nostalgia remembering MS Paint and the freedom of his childhood, when the process of making artwork was an altogether more simple business.

For those that may not have come across your work, can you describe your style and tell us how these latest paintings fit into it?

My work attempts to navigate today’s part real/part virtual environment and the anxieties and confusion so many of us experience that is associated with being attached to an electronic device for much of our lives. It then contrasts this with the sheer joy of covering something in paint, watching fish swim or using a crayon like a five year old.

Recently I have been exploring themes of plagiarism and reproduction. I have developed a fascination for gestural mark making and the relationship between digital and analogue processes. I am interested in the quality of line and form that can be created by computer programs and their associated algorithms.

How did you end up doing a residency at Sarabande?

Sarabande is a foundation set up by Lee Alexander McQueen. It offers residencies and scholarships to support creative talent and regularly run events and lectures. I got introduced to the foundation by Antonia Marsh and got accepted to one of the 15 studio spaces in September, so it is them I have to thank for making this exhibition possible.


Donal Sturt


Donal Sturt

You’re self taught. How do you think that has influenced the work you make?

I came through a not so traditional route to arrive at where I am at with my work today. I didn’t study fine art, and have spent much of the last years working within design and advertising agencies among other personal projects. I have a different skill set and experiences to what more traditionally trained artists have. I try to use these experiences to approach making art work in perhaps more unusual or unconventional ways. Ultimately, it is the freedom and lack of constraints that attracts me to making art. That said, sometimes I can’t resist setting myself a brief or a set of guidelines to adhere to.

What was behind the idea to reinterpret instantly recognisable paintings? Was the intention for viewers to recognise the original work?

The first few reinterpretations I made were simply of paintings that caught my eye at art fairs and in galleries. I would see works and immediately picture images that were not what the paintings were intended to be. I started making my own versions of these paintings in an attempt to physically recreate what i imagined, however for this show, the motive has evolved somewhat.

The art world can seem like a daunting and unwelcoming place at first. Galleries can leave many people feeling sidelined as if they ’didn’t get it’.

My favourite exhibitions are the ones that can be appreciated on multiple levels, whether that be on technique, colour, scale and process or for the more conceptual side, art historical references, humour and so forth.

I wanted Now by me to work in this way. You don’t need to have a history of art degree to recognise what many of the works are based on or to simply enjoy looking at them, however for those who wish to delve a little deeper, there is much more to discover.

Can you tell us about the process which goes into making each work. Why do you choose to make both digitally and by hand?

I feel that I have spent years unlearning the freedom at which I could create art works with as a child, and instead learning how to channel my creative process through a computer. Now, I am trying to relearn these freedoms, but whilst taking with me all of the more favourable traits that I have learnt from the machines.

There is something I find quite intriguing about laboriously recreating marks by hand with paint over hours or days, that took just seconds to make on a screen. That paired with the awkwardness and naivity of the MS Paint nostalgic aesthetic is something I am really into at the moment.

What tools do you use? How long does the process take?

The development of these works has been fairly gradual. I take the ideas through various processes until I arrive at something I am happy with. The process varied piece to piece. Sometimes I make not looking, left handed studies of the original and then retrace the lines I have made on a computer, other times I push to simplify the original to its most basic possible form and colour palette. For one piece I found an online archive of school children’s studies of the original. They were amazing, the children had used some serious artistic license! So I used their works to further inspire what I created.

Many of the works are made through many (10-15) layers of paint, allowing up to 24 hours between coats. They really don’t happen fast and I am surprised I have the patience for it. They are much funner to look at then they are to make.

Now by Me. by Donal Sturt is on show 1 – 14 December, 9.30-17.30 by appointment at Sarabande Foundation, London, N1 5SH.


Donal Sturt


Donal Sturt


Donal Sturt

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About the Author

Bryony Stone

Bryony joined It's Nice That as Deputy Editor in August 2016, following roles at Mother, Secret Cinema, LAW, Rollacoaster and Wonderland. She later became Acting Editor at It's Nice That, before leaving in late 2018.

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