“I think inspiration is a joke. I think real artists sit down and get to work,” said Brooklyn based artist Tara Donovan, who describes her process as being akin to that of an architect or a scientist. Donovan uses utilitarian, manufactured objects such as Scotch tape, Styrofoam and plastic cups, paper plates, toothpicks, and drinking straws to construct elaborate pieces that resemble landscapes and landforms.
Indeed, her pieces are a marriage of architectural principles and an allegiance to organic shapes. For example, her piece Untitled that premiered at the Ace Gallery in Los Angles in 2003 illustrates this union, as Styrofoam cups and hot glue create globular masses that were suspended from the gallery ceiling. These beehive-like lumps mimicked a bee’s ability to create precise, adjacent cells. Like a hive it is sturdy yet delicate, as it dangles securely from the ceiling yet must be reconstructed entirely when moved to another location.
The juxtaposition between Donovan’s chosen material and the aesthetic of her work is startling. The viewer is initially tricked into seeing a natural form but, upon closer inspection, realizes the object is made from the accumulation of thousands of mass produced items.
The multitude of individual parts, whether they be severed pencils or pink translucent buttons, converge and become indistinguishable. In her 2014 show at New York City’s Page Gallery, Donovan stacked thousands of white index cards to create stalagmite-like forms. “I work to the point where the material transcends itself,” Donovan explained.
Donovan’s method of creation is similar to how natural objects are formed, methodically and gradually. The New York Times noted her “capacity for absorption” and detail, as she commits herself to patterns that repeat until a structure is finally realized. Donovan describes this process as one of “endurance” in an interview with Art 21 Magazine, while simultaneously finding the term “surrender” relevant to her method of creation.
In 2008, Donovan received the MacArthur Genius Grant and was deemed “the genius of little things” by the New York Times. Since then, her work has been displayed at The Pace Gallery in New York City, the ICA Boston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Berkley Art Museum, and many more.