Donovan Entrekin Gritty Optimism & Renewed Energy


entrekin-3Flint has been an inspiration to many who have hopes of either improving in their field of endeavor, or improving the city itself. Donovan Entrekin, Director of the Flint Institute of Arts’ Art School, continues to find beauty in his hometown and capture it in his artwork.

After graduating from high school, Donovan began his artistic career at Mott Community College with a drawing class. It was there, through his studies and one of his professors, that Donovan found he could do something with art, that studying and creating art could be a way to make a life. “I took a drawing class just for the heck of it, and realized that it was something I was actually really good at, not just something that I did,” Donovan shares.

After about three years of study, that freeing feeling propelled him to enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia where he studied painting, printmaking and sculpture, eventually earning a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Before earning his degree, drawing had been his only creative outlet. “My dad used to do doodles of things,” Donovan says. “I would take them when he was done and copy them, and that grew into more complex things.” Being in the academic atmosphere with other art students contributed to Donovan’s understanding of the possibilities for an artistic career.

Painting is his daily practice, in which he uses primarily clear or white acrylic paint as a vehicle for other elements to be added, like dirt, ash, cloth, and miscellaneous street remains. Donovan doesn’t use any colored paints; all the color comes from the things he adds to the paint. He sometimes adds to a piece by drawing with charcoal. In conjunction with the earthy, grounded imagery, most of his work is based on the human figure. This influence stemmed from the Pennsylvania Academy’s classical, figure-based teaching approach. “I always use the human figure. Especially when I’m painting, I tend to go toward abstraction,” Donovan explains. “The prints, based on the medium, tend to be more explicit and narrative; it’s the nature of printmaking. With painting, things tend to dissolve a little bit more. The medium for me really dictates what I’m doing. I start with the figure, and depending on how I’m working, that really determines where the image goes.”

Even though he has a fascination with the human figure, external places tend to be another source of Donovan’s inspiration. “Flint’s a very interesting place,” he says. “It was an interesting place to grow up in the 80s when all of the deterioration was kicking in. That was very much part of my visual background growing up, things closing down and being boarded up, and the violence of the city cranking up. Then I moved to Philadelphia, which had a very similar kind of feel, except on a much larger scale. So, I think visually, and experientially, that has always been the background of my imagery.”

DeaD Man i, based on a sculpture of leonard baskin – an artist donovan admires

DeaD Man i, based on a sculpture of leonard baskin – an artist donovan admires

After seven years as the Assistant Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Donovan returned to Flint in July to be the new Director of the Art School at the FIA. “Interlochen was lovely and calm and green, and I lived in the woods, so my art definitely changed. It became easier, I guess,” Donovan shares. “The imagery became more pleasant, and part of that is growing up and having a family. But since I’ve been back in Flint, some of these older images that I was doing ten years ago are starting to bubble back up.”

Being an administrator, Donovan found that he had talent with that, as well, and it had seemed to fit in with his lifestyle. He was and is able to work in his studio, but still be effective in his administrative work. He enjoys his official duties, and that he can also see what is going on in the studios and with the students. “Professionally, that was very attractive to me,” he adds. Coming back to Flint, for Donovan, was simply right place, right time. “I had a love for the FIA, but also the artistic community in Flint was very attractive to me,” he says. “It’s going through a resurgence. Artists tend to come in and build things up. Flint’s in a really nice moment right now for an artist, for a family – it’s just a great place to be.”

Being in Flint again and seeing what the city is currently going through has changed Donovan’s artwork. “I think a lot of that heavier imagery is starting to come back in, tempered by the optimism in Flint,” he says. “It’s really energetic and things are happening. I’m seeing some of that in there, too. Some of the heavier imagery is being lifted.”

Donovan begins his process by drawing in sketchbooks, until eventually the drawings grow onto larger pieces of paper, and finally, are stretched onto canvas, where images start to accumulate and become more “loaded” with new images. “It’s very much a sense of time accumulating,” he explains.

Sick Man X, donovan’s favorite piece that he returns to for inspiration

Sick Man X, donovan’s favorite piece that he returns to for inspiration

Now that he has returned to Flint, Donovan is currently rebuilding his preparations for exhibiting his work. Because of this significant transition, he looks back at one of his pieces – Sick Man X – from ten years ago that reminds him of his hard work so far. “I think it is an accumulation of the work I was doing up until then, and it has been a sign-post for me,” he says. “If I stray too far, and I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, I can always come back to that piece and re-start again.” He keeps the painting hanging in his home.

Donovan’s favorite part about creating art is that it documents his life. “It’s the act of doing something personal and physical,” Donovan says. “It’s nice to create something that’s physical, that’s real. A painting takes a really long time to make. It’s great to have the kind of involvement with something that’s bigger than a moment or a day, and a record of what you’re thinking or where you’re going. That, I think, is the best part of it.”

When he was teaching, he enjoyed helping students reach what they needed to reach to create a piece of art. “Helping guide others to discover that opportunity and connect with something that was important to them,” says Donovan, “that was the satisfaction with teaching.”

The FIA Art School’s Portfolio Development Program is a professional mission of Donovan’s. It is designed to help high school students in Genesee County augment whatever arts training they are getting in their high schools to prepare them for an arts-based education. “It’s helping them discover what they want to do,” he says. The FIA will bring in college admissions officers, art professionals, as well as visiting artists who come for FIA exhibitions to talk with students about how they came to their careers.

Educationally, professionally, and artistically, Donovan continues to find the courage and to try new things and pursue different opportunities. “What really makes an art community rich is to create the opportunity to know about each other’s work,” he says. Part of his plan is to provide a larger space for artists to bring in their work, so that faculty and other artists can participate in group critiques, open-drawing sessions, and find a community of artists by which to feel supported.

Artistically, Donovan’s goals are to continue discovering new techniques and connecting with other people through his artwork. “I am most proud of continuing to be an artist,” he says. “I’m very proud that I am able to continue working and engage with other people artistically.”

Donovan believes that a strong artistic community can create a dialogue and bring people together. Flint has a “gritty optimism,” which in turn, is energizing the city. “That’s why I’m an artist, that’s why I’m in Flint, and that’s why I’m working at the FIA,” Donovan says. “I really believe that art can be something that brings people into a new way of thinking and doing things.”



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