Artist Q&A: Seanna Doonan
27 Mar 2020
Before our closure, we were planning for an exhibition by Wakefield-based artist Seanna Doonan in The Hepworth Cafe. In this Q&A, Seanna guides us through her process and inspirations and discusses some of the works that would have been on display in the exhibition.
Could you tell us how you started in illustration?
I was fortunate to grow up in a busy household where music, dance and art were part of everyday life. There were lots of musicians passing through on their way to gigs and often rehearsals or sessions taking place around the house. I always had the option of escaping for a bit of peace where I would draw or paint for a few hours and then return to the real world. The older I got, the more I began to use illustration to express how I felt about certain issues, just as musicians do through song and music.
How does the mining heritage of Yorkshire and Wakefield’s history inform your work?
It’s impossible to look at the history of Wakefield without acknowledging the deep mining roots embedded within. Almost everybody I know has some sort of connection to it along with a story to tell. The structure of the community was perhaps as strong as the pit structure itself and everyone had their own part to play. The closure of the pits is another example of something being taken away from communities, of something they could not control and to a lesser degree, it is the same with local buildings, landmarks and events.
When I began, to illustrate parts of the city which no longer exist such as buildings, pubs and markets, I soon noticed that my illustrations evoked many emotions in local people and often they had a happy, funny or sad narrative to tell me. It was the sense of nostalgia that really hooked me and it was at that moment that I feel my work took on a new depth.
How does your own background and community feed into your practice?
I am from a large family of Irish descent and music plays a huge part in my life. Coming from a family of folk musicians, I grew up listening to and singing songs about mining, the miner’s strike and other historical and social struggles. From an early age, these folk songs painted a vivid picture of working-class issues throughout history while reflecting the highlights and hardships of everyday life. It is these stories and experiences which form the basis for much of my work.
Could you tell us a bit about some of the works that were due to go on display at The Hepworth Wakefield?
The project is built around my home city of Wakefield, which has a strong mining heritage. It was chosen to coincide with the exhibition Bill Brandt / Henry Moore (on display at The Hepworth Wakefield) which explores, among other things, the mining communities of the north. Illustrating history and the community I grew up in allows me to form a connection with the past and to understand it more fully and my hope is that my illustrations allow people to reconnect with the people and places of their childhood.