Donald McDonnell – an artist among the people

“It is a living place”, said Donald McDonnell to me near the beginning of our interview. Donald is an artist living and working on the Strand. He is heavily involved with the Peabody Trust, and his artistic mediums range from poetry, photography and painting, to sculpture.

Having spent the last (and my first) three years in London treading the very street that he speaks of, I knew what he meant. We are both a part of that life, two single additions to the movements and character of the place.

As a student I think one sees the Strand in an entirely different way to an artist like Donald, who has known it go through much change. Without trying to place the parameters of my own experience as a restriction around what Donald had to say, we chatted about his own perceptions of the Strand…

Drawn to the life of the individual in his work, Donald focuses on the character of people and places, and in particular characters that are disadvantaged in life such as the homeless.

As someone who puts his hand to such a vast array of mediums I decided to put my own (much feebler) artistic talents to the test in order to illustrate my take on Donald’s Strand strand.

Taking stylistic inspiration from Spiegelman’s “Maus”, I decided to do a storyline-style representation of our interview. Having only met Donald for a brief hour, I thus felt rather under-confident in attempting to create a chronological plot of his whole life, neither did I wish to do a linear bound outline of our single meeting. Then I realised that the material that I had collected were, aptly, strands. So I decided to draw little strands of what I knew, arranging the oral histories that I had collected in our interview into small groups arranged by ideas, rather than chronology.

The piece was framed by a sketch of the Strand, as the main framework for our interview and the project. Outlining the stories told in the interview, the road starts at Trafalgar square, passing by King’s to the end of the city and fleet street….

Clare Brant

Clare Brant

Clare is co-Director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research, and Professor of Eighteenth-century Literature & Culture in the English Department at King’s College London.

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