With roots in 19th century science fiction (think Jules Verne, Mary Shelley or H. G. Wells), the Steampunk design movement might not seem all that modern or contemporary at first glance. But it takes 21st century attitude to punk up the steam power of the Victorian locomotives. Steampunks value the individuality of intricate handcrafted pieces that make good use of recycled parts. Lighting designer Art Donovan is one such artist whose work conjures up the magic and romance of early technology and a popular literary tradition.
What led you to Steampunk? Are you a science fiction buff?
I came across Steampunk purely by accident on the net last August and "BANG" - I was awestruck! For me, it was the most exciting new style that I had seen in over 30 years as a designer. Steampunk combined all of the interests that I ever had- science fact, speculative fiction, early sci-fi films, history, antique technologies, Jules Verne novels... It was even more surprising to discover that Steampunk embraced such unexpected things as arcane spiritualities, traditional Victorian manners and everything else that was thriving in culture of the late 19th and early 20th century.
I think that most of us believe that our past 2 decades are the pinnacle of science, illumination and discovery, but actually it doesn't come close to the sheer scope and diversity of disciplines that engaged the Victorian scientist, author and artist. The actual term, "Steampunk" serves as an umbrella title for everything from "New Victorian" to "Retro Futurism", "Diesel Punk" and "Goth" and includes everything from the gorgeous and macabre creations of Chris Kuksi to the fantastic "Rogue Taxidermy" art of Sarina Brewer.
How does steampunk fit into your repertoire of other design work?
It doesn't fit in at all- totally from left field. (Maybe that's why I love it so much.) It's like starting from the beginning, only this time I'm no longer concerned about what's in and out of style. Artistically, it's just so liberating to work like that!
You work with a variety of materials for your Steampunk lighting, including baby Slinkies – do you base the designs on materials you have, or do you hunt down components to fit a certain design?
All of the concepts start with a thumbnail sketch then I go straight to cutting the metal and wood. Mostly every part is made by hand- but there are times when the design needs a bizarre embellishment that can only come from the lot of antique machine parts that I have. Sometimes I get real lucky- like the 'Baby Slinkys'- PERFECT for modding a tubular light bulbs. In Steampunk, I try to create an evocative, singular statement. However, one could easily be tempted to go absolutely nuts in the details. If you allow that to happen, the design becomes a novelty/gag item instead of an engaging design.