Craig Donald Inspired By Opera at Queen Street Studios

New exhibition from the Belfast artist reinterprets Wagner's epic The Ring Cycle and other works

Belfast-based artist Craig Donald, whose upcoming exhibition opens at Queen Street Studios on December 6, cheerfully admits that he’s a bit of an inspirational magpie: anything and everything is grist for his artistic mill. 

‘It’s been years,’ says the 25-year-old, ‘since I’ve bought or been given something that didn’t inspire my art in some way. Everything in my life has an influence.’

In the case of the works he will be showing at QSS, that influence was operatic. Donald explains that he was intrigued by the idea of opera as a ‘constructed artform’ as a forerunner to contemporary cinema. ‘It brought a lot of different kinds of art together. It had music, performance and it used costume and set-painting to create a mood for the audience.’

Whereas opera is a 360 degree artistic experience, painting, on the other hand, is a limited medium which rarely allows artists to venture outside the 2D realm. With this exhibition, however, Donald, who studied Art and Design at the University of Ulster, attempted to create something that was a ‘little more emotionally involving’ for his audience.

In order to do that he focused specifically on German composer Richard Wagner’s The Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen), one of the operatic tradition’s best known compositions. Even those who glaze over at the idea of opera are likely to have either heard of the piece, or at least know the general gist of its most famous part, 'Ride of the Valkyries'.

‘I’m always intrigued by the general idea that people have about opera being inaccessible,’ Donald says. He points out that The Ring Cycle is actually a cultural touchstone, informing everything from Nazi ideology to pop culture. ‘'Ride of the Valkyries',' he adds, 'is famously played in Apocalypse Now.’

Wagner's opera also deals with themes of history, mythology and control that are recurring throughout Donald’s work. In this case he is using opera as a means through which to examine how individuals are shaped by society. ‘I guess I’m a bit of an art detective,’ he grins.

Donald sought to set up a solo exhibition in QSS since he was turned down – very gently – in early 2011. Thereafter he answered the gallery's yearly call out for artists hoping to exhibit, and is excited to show work in the centre of Belfast, which Donald sees as a captial of culture in 2012. 

His art tends to be a multi-faceted blend of painting, drawing and occasional sculptural elements. And while he has exhibited in group shows before – he has featured in the annual Royal Ulster Academy exhibition at the Ulster Museum twice – those works were ‘different' to the works on show in QSS.

‘I rarely go for straight lines,' he proffers with a smile. 'My work tends to spread about a lot, in a very playful manner, because I’m looking at so many different things. It’s conceptually tight, but surrounded by chaos.’

Craig Donald and Bartosz Kolata are on exhibition at Queen Street Studios from December 6 - 29, 2012.