Artist Eva O’Donovan joins us this week to discuss her new series of paintings, created from 2019 through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. While all of O’Donovan’s works are inspired by two of her primary interests – interiors and fashion – the 2019 Chrysalis series takes additional inspiration from Trans women, and their overall lack of representation in the visual arts.
Each portrait is created following O’Donovan’s signature style utilizing oils on vintage fabric from the likes of Schumacher, Liberty Fabrics, Fabricut, and David Hicks.
Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop your newest pieces?
Eva O’Donovan: Following the initial COVID Lockdown, I searched for joyous, vibrant images and textiles to lift my spirits out of a darker place. I spent some time at an artist retreat in Ireland and focused on this, delving deep into imagery from fashion and film.
Raymond: Given that you are a fine painter and artist, how long is your process in creating new work?
Eva: Vivienne, Blaire, and Victoria were part of my most recent paintings. The initial atmosphere of this body of work started in 2020, during the darkest days of the pandemic, and came to fruition recently in 2021. In 2019, in an attempt to redress the lack of visibility of those identifying as Transfeminine in the visual arts and portraiture in particular, I collaborated with Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) to find subjects for the Chrysalis series. So I guess the common theme to me is creating beauty out of a challenge, focused on the power of the feminine and the beauty of textiles representing our interwoven her-story.
Raymond: What was your initial inspiration, and where do your ideas usually come from?
Eva: As a child, I have memories of parts of my Sicilian Grandfathers’ traveling Cinema and Circus lying around my childhood home, including huge old projectors and cans of cinema reels. Flashes of this cinema reel projected onto curtains, walls and even trees fill my memories. This is the spark where my work and the creative process begin, and these are the images that resonate in my work. People, in my case women, loosely formed on hanging textile often blurring out at the edges. The women in my maternal family were fiercely independent, and this is the power of the feminine that I want to portray in my work. I am frequently drawn to strong women depicted on the pages of fashion magazines or from cinema stills. Gloria Steinem’s quote, ‘Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before’ and with this in mind, I endeavor to repurpose and rejuvenate textiles and photography into new pieces that I hope are more than just the sum of their parts!
Raymond: Would you please describe your overall creative and design process?
Eva: Generally, but not always, the textile comes first. Textiles, to me, are maps of history, socially, economically, and geographically and represent all elements of society. We wear them, we surround ourselves with them, and we change with them. My first step to making a piece of work is the selection of fabric/textile.
When I was lucky enough to travel to London, Paris, Rome, New York, and Tokyo, I trawled through vintage markets and high-end fabric shops. During COVID, I even discovered fabulous online resources for vintage and designer fabrics.
The Fabric must be of a particular weight and weave, and they have to sing to me; there must be an almost visceral response to want that pattern in my work. Depending on my mood or mindset, the pattern can be subdued or calm, and sometimes the textiles are excited, vivid, and energetic. It is the actual textile that I use, not a copy or a digital reproduction. I stretch and prepare the Fabric to make it feel like a canvas through a process I have perfected over the years. Then comes the selection process of the figure to use on a selected piece of textile. Once I have picked the Fabric I want to use; I search photographic images collected over the years from various places like magazines, reference books, movie stills, behind-the-scenes catwalk shows, etc. The energy and proportion of the figure must sit well with the pattern, and that is where the magic happens.
Once the two elements are chosen, I sketch the figure onto the stretched and primed Fabric with tailor’s chalk or a light application of oil paint. These initial marks are crucial as mistakes in the outline cannot be undone. Once I’m happy with the position/proportion and sketch on the Fabric, I begin to paint freehand with oils. Usually, I start with the face then move to the body as the painting progresses. I choose how much of the Fabric I want to paint and then leave certain areas unfinished to give the impression of emergence and drama. Fashion has always been an enormous source of inspiration to me, and I have always been drawn to the silhouette of the female figure wearing a dramatic costume. My work is female-centric and is a celebration of the strength of women in an unequal society. These women mean a lot to me. Even though I don’t know most of them, I connect with them while painting them. I talk to the story I create for them while I work. They are a feeling. My painting is often fast and excited with music blaring in my ears, and I feel this energy is evident in each work.
Raymond: Do you have a specific audience in mind?
Eva: I paint for myself, and I work with images and textiles that I love and find dynamic. Firstly the work is for me. The whole process of making a painting is what I adore. Listening to music, dancing in my studio, interacting with my contemporaries in the community, going out, and researching and resourcing are what fuels what I do. The fact that people like it and that I can sell my work to refuel my resources to paint even more is, of course, a huge bonus.
Raymond: Would you please describe the methods, tools, and materials you used to develop your process?
Eva: How I treat the textiles is a self-created top-secret recipe. You would have to ply me with a beautiful meal and some lovely sweets before I spill the beans!
Raymond: Did you utilize any new technique or technology to conceptualize this product?
Eva: Over the years, I have developed my stretching techniques and toiled with different surfaces and primers to make the fabric behave or become more successful every time. In the beginning, it seemed like a lottery every time I would treat a piece of fabric to transform it into a canvas. I often would return to my studio the next day only to find that whatever the fiber mix was in a particular high-end fabric would buckle or distort. Unfortunately, these were expensive experiments that ended up in the trash. Thankfully, I have honed my knowledge now of what reacts which way, and my surfaces have become almost guaranteed to work to both my relief and that of my pocket!
Raymond: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos.
Eva: Femininity, Strength, Feminism, Beauty, resilience, and defiance. This quote resonates with me on every painting I make, and I hope I always stay true to its ethos: “Fabric is the most extraordinary thing: it has life. You must respect the Fabric,” – Herbert de Givenchy.
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