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Aug 8, 2008 1:10 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Steampunk arrives in Bridgehampton

Aug 8, 2008 1:10 PM

Early in his design career, before starting custom lighting business Donovan Design with his wife Leslie Tarbell Donovan, Mr. Donovan worked for Donald Desky, the designer of Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. Radio City was Mr. Desky’s masterpiece of art deco design and even that building, which opened in 1932, had industrial and artistic elements that could be characterized as steampunk. Mr. Donovan’s steampunk creations are influenced by a variety of eras, styles and regions of the world, but like punk, the movement borrows from many sources. “They’ve repurposed everything,” he said of the steampunks.

Mr. Donovan said throughout his career he has rarely drawn plans for any of his designs, but he had to make blueprints for his steampunk work, some of which took more than two months to build. Larger pieces, like his “Siddhartha Pod,” are one of a kind, but others can be re-created with only slight differences, depending on whether his components are unique found objects or fabricated. “Siddhartha Pod” is a large and ornate hanging lamp fashioned from brass, wood and glass. Three long, tubular bulbs and a dome light are set on a dimmer, simultaneously creating ambience and anachronism.

The steampunk exhibition includes artists and designers from all over the world as well as one other local artist, along with Mr. Donovan. Sag Harbor resident and printmaker Bethany Peters said Mr. Donovan introduced her to the genre and it fit well with both her scientific and artistic mind. Ms. Peters is helping organize the show and has created several two-dimensional prints as well as a sculptural piece that tells temperature, time of day and tide level based on barometric pressure.

Additional designers and artists Jos De Vink and Tatjana Van Vark from the Netherlands, Montpellier France’s Sam Van Olffen and Americans Suzanne Rachel Forbes, I-Wei Huang, Steve Erenberg and Hunter Herrick round out the list of exhibitors displaying, paintings, digital imagery, video, sculptural and functional creations.

Mr. Donovan is confident the show will be a smash hit and promises this new way of looking at architecture and design will become part of the popular lexicon. “Artists are rarely accepted at first, they’re renegades,” he said, though Mr. Donovan added, “Like every movement, it’s going to go commercial.” He said steampunks are not afraid of the coming popularity of the aesthetic and they will continue doing what they’ve always done.

Steampunk influenced objects, accidently or otherwise, can be seen everywhere one goes once the aesthetic is grasped, but Mr. Donovan believes design will be more purposefully and directly shaped by steampunk very soon. “Steampunk Home,” one of Mr. Donovan’s favorite blogs, pulls from catalogues, magazines and other sources to show steampunks where to find items that fit the fantastic Victorian aesthetic, sometimes without any modification. From simple brass countertops to light fixtures from Pottery Barn or metal Ikea shelves and cabinets, sometimes steampunk can be found in the most mundane of places.

“The majors are going to get hold of it,” Mr. Donovan said, though he noted they would not reproduce the strength and energy of what the pioneers showing on Saturday have built. “When a movement begins, you get the full strength of the philosophy and uniqueness,” he said, but soon it will be digested by companies into mass market items. Despite the somewhat cynical prediction, Mr. Donovan understands that this is how the world works today.

He believes the “world’s first exhibition” of steampunk will be remembered and noted that no matter what happens “true talent is undeniable,” and it will be on full display in Bridgehampton on Saturday.

“Steampunk” will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 16, and will remain through August 24 at the Hamptons Antique Galleries at 2546 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton.

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