Art Donovan has had a successful 30-year career as an artist and lighting designer, but it was his interest and subsequent creations in the Steampunk genre that led him to his latest and greatest achievements.
The Southampton resident discovered Steampunk during an online search for new design styles, and he was immediately hooked. The fantastical aesthetic draws inspiration from Victorian-era England and the industrialized 19th century, but it takes the look and feel to a surreal and far more technologically advanced place, rife with steam-powered copper robots, ray guns, massive air ships and mad tinkerers. “That’s what Steampunk is about, it’s a mash-up,” Donovan said. “That’s why it’s so fun.”
As Donovan delved into the world of Steampunk and began showing his one-of-a-kind and mostly functional pieces to the world online, he became one of the genre’s most admired designers and perhaps its greatest ambassador.
In 2008, Donovan curated a Steampunk exhibition at Hamptons Antique Galleries in Bridgehampton and that eventually led him to curate the world’s first Steampunk museum exhibition at Oxford University’s Museum of the History of Science in October 2009. “It ended up being the most popular exhibit they ever had,” Donovan said of the show, which ran through February 2010. “There were lines around the block.”
This month, the designer’s book, The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement was released, and he will be promoting it with three local events, including an exhibition of his Steampunk sculptures, lecture and book signing at Gallery 429 in Greenport on August 20.
Donovan has become one of the leading names in the Steampunk movement, but most of his time is spent working on lighting for various commercial and residential projects around the world. “In the studio it’s mostly designs for the architects,” Donovan said. “I have to steal time for the Steampunk stuff.”
Donovan and his wife, Leslie, run Donovan Design, but their most recent project is Sage Marine, a new business creating premium marine-grade lighting.
While his commercial and marine designs aren’t exactly Steampunk, it’s clear that the movement’s influence has crept into Donovan’s other endeavors. The handcrafted cabin lamps for Sage Marine have an industrial, yet fanciful look, much like the Donovan’s more eccentric Steampunk designs.
“We started the line last year,” Donovan said, noting that Sage Marine has been a big success. “You can always find a fashionable light and put it on a boat, but it will corrode over a short time,” he said, explaining why marine lighting is a niche that requires much different materials than the unique found objects that often appear in his Steampunk work. Donovan’s marine lighting is “all over yacht yards in Italy,” and Sage Marine is working locally with the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard.
When he has time, Donovan said he’s working on a collection of Steampunk pieces called, “Steampunk Modern.” The new sculptures stay within the antique-meets-science fiction Steampunk aesthetic, but they are less ornate and have bolder geometric forms. “I just like to keep moving,” Donovan said, explaining that he rarely does the same thing twice.
Art Donovan is speaking about Steampunk and signing copies of The Art of Steampunk at in Sag Harbor at 6 p.m. on Aug. 6 and at the at 6 p.m. on Aug. 13.
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