Kaye Donachie’s solo exhibition “Into the Thousand Mirrors” at Lismore Castle Arts, Co Waterford pays tribute to a cast of historical female figures connected by their unconventional beliefs …
You often take inspiration from historical figures which must necessitate a lot of background research …
My images evolve through collecting historical material from photography, art and film to biographies, poetry and literature. These resources conjure up new images and allow me to create an alternative fiction or a sense of time and place. By cross referencing images with literature, I interweave stories, like cinematic narratives, within my paintings. I use these fragments to think about the atmosphere or emotive quality that I would like to sense in my paintings. For instance, when making work for the Lismore show I collected small images by Cocteau, including lines of his poetry, as well as work by other artists who had created portraits of Maria Lani.
Your current exhibition “Into the Thousand Mirrors” is an interesting collection of portraits – of poets, actresses and performers. How did you decide on this particular cast of characters?
The characters in the paintings pay tribute to historical female figures and modernist protagonists who are connected by their unconventional beliefs and preferences. My titles are cited lines of poetry and act as pointers for the historical literary references within my work. I have often titled paintings using the poetic writing of Emmy Hennings, Edna St Vincent Millay and Iris Tree. Taken out of context these poetic lines resonate and take on their own significant meaning. “Into the Thousand Mirrors” is a line from taken from a Jean Cocteau’s poem called “Preamble” (A Rough Draft for An Ars Poetical). Cocteau considered Lani his muse and encouraged the other artists to paint her portrait, staging an exhibition of works which is now the only historical record of the life of Maria Lani. I felt this line from the poem lent itself to the idea of a replicated image reflected to us through many versions.
How did you come across this actress and why are you particularly interested in her?
In my studio I like to have books or images and ephemera to hand which can conjure up a particular sense of time. Recently I bought an exhibition catalogue of works curated by Jean Cocteau titled “Maria Lani, 51 portraits, 1929”. The images in the catalogue were intriguing and I wanted to know more about the model who sat for so many influential artists. In 1928 Lani arrived in Paris and introduced herself as a silent film actress, inspiring Thomas Mann to co-author a film script called The Woman of the Hundred Faces. The scenario required multiple artistic representations of the same model. The works were made by Man Ray, Matisse, Picabia, Delaunay and many other male artists working at that time. The film never materialised, and Maria Lani disappeared. This story – the idea that her life translates as a fiction which only exists in the subsequent 1929 exhibition by Cocteau really informed my current paintings at Lismore.
Where and how do you work?
I have a studio in south London. I prefer to work alone, and I am lucky enough to have a self-contained studio. I work in a building that has a great community of artists as well as the Studio Voltaire Gallery which has a very active and interesting programme of exhibitions.
Need to Know: “Kaye Donachie: Into the Thousand Mirrors” is on show at St Carthage Hall, Lismore, Co Waterford until October 31; www.lismorecastlearts.ie.
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