Welsh artist, Sean Donovan, describes narrative painting as “process painting” that is a way to communicate complex feelings and a story visually. In a post-modern sense, the artist can sample imagery and superimpose one upon another. For example, in Sean’s Self-portrait (first photo in his gallery below), a straightforward and relatively simple image, his inspiration came from a book about Francis Bacon.
To illustrate the anatomy of the narrative process, Sean suggests taking stock in a particular black and white photograph of Francis Bacon at his studio in which a few elements stand out: A woodland forest of brushes in the lower quadrant and the oval mirror frame. If you now refer to Sean’s Self-portrait 2020, you may see the little Bacon hair quiff and a loose interpretation of Francis's features. The challenge here was not to copy the exact image but to leave it open to suggestive implication. Now the audience becomes the artist bringing meaning to the work. Each reader of the text (painting narrative) will find a different meaning compared to other realistic paint/subject renderings.
This all begs the question of why in Self Portrait is Sean looking at himself as Francis Bacon in a mirror? Sean sees the subject before the mirror differently than the simple reflected image. Do people notice this, and if so what does it mean? Sean does not claim to be Francis Bacon, but instead, some form of communication with Bacon. So what is the nature of this interplay? He cannot use Bacon’s painting technique that would be too obvious a sampling.
So what is going on? Perhaps the use of simple stage setting in many of Bacon’s painting has infected his consciousness, a viral aesthetic infection.
Bacon, like Bonnard and Diebenkorn, has left a rich legacy that I find invaluable in the present narrative process. After two decades of pouring paint out of a bucket onto a horizontal canvas, Sean finds great pleasure to use a pencil once again.
Sean began to focus his attention on art at sixteen inspired by a special experience at Stonehenge. In the same year, he was offered a provisional place at university on the strength of his life drawing. Sean postponed his academic studies and worked until age twenty-three when he completed a foundation course, the traditional route to a degree certificate in the UK.
Passionately returning to drawing, he made one drawing per day for nine months. This resulted in a full portfolio and undergraduate study at Leeds University in North England. Encouraged by the resources at Leeds that included the Henry Moore Sculpture Center located in Leeds City museum, Sean practiced welding, bronze casting and stone carving. He quickly earned a commission in Cardiff with six other artists by Wales Prime Time TV. The project led to regular exhibitions of chainsaw woodcarving.
A year out of university and on the Island of Mallorca (Balearic Island), Sean participated in a group show of international artists at the famous village of Deya.
After completing his MA at the University of Wales in Cardiff, he explored video art and began a twenty year investigation into color field painting with no drawing or planning, only layers of poured paint onto horizontal canvas.
In 2019, we saw the FULL reintegration of the graphic medium, pen and pencil, sketchbook and narrative design into his work. Color will remain at the forefront of every work as the process has evolves forward.