Interview: Mitchell Donaldson


Mitchell Donaldson combines painting, collage and installation to address metaphysical problems surrounding human individuation, particularly in relation to nature and ecological concepts of interconnectedness. In his recent work, recurring worm-like entities morph into faces, limbs, digits, intestines and other forms suggestive of bodily transformations and extensions that both enable and undermine processes of individuation.

Interviewed by Isabel Hood

Isabel Hood: You have been exploring the worm/limb-like motif. Where did this originate from?

Mitchell Donaldson: My show Like a log at The Laundry Art Space in 2016 featured a lot of these wormy forms. They began with drawings of flowing organic figures which I gradually reduced to a more basic form. Coming from drawing, I think of them as a kind of magnified line. They are entities in their own right but also wriggle into any number of other shapes. I am very interested in how this metamorphosis complicates identity.

IH: Your takeover shared your processes and development of styles and ideas. Do you still play with the theme of mobilising inanimate objects through creativity?

MD: Previously I have explored the vitality of matter through recycling and transforming found materials commonly considered inert and worthless. The worm forms still draw on this research but are more representative of living beings. They could be seen as quite a lowly life-form but my process is about attending to their agency and potential as well as what is essential to them.

Sketching on my lunch break. #inresidencetakeover

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IH: What dictates the flow of the worm shapes? Is it a conscious decision?

MD: I enjoy imagining the worms moving in space. Kind of like the classic windows screen-saver of 3D pipes. I paint them as a flat colour first and just follow a shape in which I often find recognisable forms like faces or human figures. The worm forms are distinct “things” but exist between outline, object and picture implying multiple and shifting meanings.

IH: It appeared that your earlier enquiries into organic shapes were flatter and have since gained more spatial depth. For example, you shared a recently finished work where the forms weave in and out of the green lines and are weighted with shadows and highlights. Can you explain this progression?

MD: In previous work the forms were created from collaged cardboard and plywood, drawing attention to particular material transformations I was performing. I think that the three-dimensional rendering in the new paintings is more overtly representational. The worms are vitally connected to pictorial space, both establishing it and defying its logic.

Detail of another recently finished painting. #inresidencetakeover

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IH: This may be a personal interpretation, but the three-dimensionality of your work also seems to have a graffiti-like quality. Are you referencing or influenced by any styles of graffiti?

MD: Not particularly, though I agree there are similarities. I like the way some graffiti distorts and intertwines text, making it almost impossible to read. This abandonment of legibility in service of formal complexity and diversity is relevant to some of my concerns.

IH: You shared with us artists that have influenced your practice, who work with socks as collage elements. Do you include similar collaged, tubular objects in your work?

MD: Collage has been a big part of my practice in the past. I relate to the way these artists use socks as a bodily index, representational and formal device, and base material all in one. This multiplicity of uses and meanings contained in one object has informed both my approach to collage and the kind of imagery in my paintings.

IH: Do your acrylic leaf molds produce one copy or multiple? Are there any comments on individuation here?

MD: They do produce multiples. There is a lot of repetition in my work referencing ideas of mitosis and mimesis. I am interested in the way these processes can undermine our understanding of identity. Reproduction also raises questions about the distinction between nature and artifice.

IH: Can you tell us more about your upcoming show?

MD: The show is titled Worm Runner’s Digest and will be held in Brisbane in June. I am working on a large series of paintings that explore the worm form as a magnified, fleshy line that is continually drawing itself as different objects. The title is drawn from my research into experiments performed on planarians, a kind of flat worm, in the late 50s and early 60s by the biologist James V. McConnell. Planarians have the unique ability to regenerate identical worms from smaller parts of a single worm and McConnell was testing whether memory was replicated in the regenerated bodies. The findings are dubious but not really relevant to my interest as for me the experiment prompts questions about individuation, how and where we locate consciousness, and the persistence of a sense of self through change.

To see more images shared by Mitchell Donaldson during his Instagram takeover, take a look at @inresidence_ari.

See more of Mitch's work on his website here.

Keep up with our Instagram Takeovers, news, events and new posts via @inresidence_ari.