Artist of the Issue: John Donovan

John Donovan ’20 is a talented, comprehensive artist who loves stagecraft, drawing, and painting. His recent works include the set creation of Groton theater’s fall play, Antigone, which featured a towering ladder of chairs, a beautifully painted floor, and a huge set of walls. 

What is your specialty in art? Do you plan on continuing it into college?

J: My specialty is oil painting. I like it because it’s a very fast medium: it’s almost like scraping butter across a canvas. It’s really smooth, and you can blend colors right next to each other. It mixes itself well to work fast so you can observe what you put on the canvas.

I plan to continue this for my whole life because art is not just an activity. It’s a way of thinking about the world. You see it, interpret it, mix it all together, and throw it on a canvas.

You had a very prominent role in designing and constructing the set of Antigone. Did the stage turn out how you envisioned it? Are there things you wish you had changed or taken on?

In the beginning, I had a very different picture in my mind of what I thought it would look like. But working with the cast and creative minds, like Director of Theater Laurie Sales, Technical Director Brandt Belknap and Assistant Technical Director Catrin Evans, was really incredible because I could hear their takes on it and then connect mine with theirs.

When it comes to changes, I guess I could nitpick to the end of the world. I like to think huge. My original plan had a 20-foot marble statue! However, I had cool but unrealistic ideas. Considering the fact that we were under a time constraint, we couldn’t include everything because it’s not realistic to have a mish-mash of everything. To really harness the best ideas and try to drive those home was really important.

Which Groton theater set was your favorite to work on?

Women of Lockerbie in fourth form spring term was my favorite because it was my introduction to stagecraft. Stagecraft is art, it’s design, and it was out of my comfort zone. I contacted Laurie. Her vision was so intense that I wanted to help make the set match her direction. 

So Catrin, Brandt, and I built a tree. The tree, which represented time, contained different objects that told different stories. Everything was stuck in time, and the objects were relics of the past. I also got to do one of my first posters for Lockerbie, which explains my title as “Poster Designer” of the school, so that’s fun.

How did you develop your love for art? 

I’ve always had art as a part of my life. I’ve always had the art materials around me, which is helpful (not that you can’t make great art with random things you find around the house). 

My mom was a great figure in starting my art career. She started teaching art in kindergarten, so I was basically one of her “test students.” It was me, the kid next door (my best friend), and the kid down the street that would meet for sessions. Art is not only a part of my life –– it’s a part of my family. It’s all interconnected.

How did Groton help continue to foster your passion for art? 

I’d say stagecraft was a huge breakthrough for me. Seeing your art go through a process is really interesting to me. Before, I would paint a painting in a week, but with stagecraft, you see the art over seven weeks. It’s insane. It’s even better to see the cast interact with it on the grand stage! It’s crazy to see your art from a different view, see someone else interpret it, or see the director implement it uniquely. Please, everybody, join stagecraft!


John Donovan ’20 painting his self-portait. Courtesy of Jonny Fan ’22