Senior Spotlight: Ian Donegan

For Ian Donegan, a senior in Kinetic Imaging and Painting + Printmaking, the relationship between people, technology, and the natural world is the foundation for his art. Donegan grew up close to agriculture and wildlife in the shadow of mountains in rural Virginia.

“I’m part of the first generation of country boys with cell phones, so I think that the relationship between nature and technology has always been present in my life in a strange way,” he says.

Donegan is deeply concerned about the effects of climate change. The prospect of a changing planet is not only core to his artistic perspective, he admits it’s also a source of anxiety. To address this, Donegan channels his energy into his coursework. In 2019, his interest in the effects of climate change led him to create an animated documentary about the (now-canceled) Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline to run from West Virginia through North Carolina.

In his artistic approach, Donegan tries to stay present and mindful of what can be done today to solve the climate problems of tomorrow.

“Doing such emotionally heavy art requires balance to be successful. It’s important for me to remember that the world is here today, right now,” he says.

“No Pipeline” by Ian Donegan (BFA ’21).

Donegan’s 2021 senior project, Void/Swarm, echoes themes from his earlier work at VCUarts while bridging the gaps between the arts and sciences. While doing research on biodiversity loss in North America and learning about the role of insect pollinators in maintaining biodiversity, Donegan began studying the impact of insect extinction on the planet. These discoveries informed his senior project.

“My project focuses on insects as mediators between plants and vertebrae, and their essential role in maintaining healthy biodiversity,” he says. “Approached through a dualistic lens, the work balances opposing forces: nature and humanity, life and death, and peace and anxiety.”

Experience at the Anderson

Donegan’s time at VCUarts has not just been spent researching biodiversity and raising awareness of climate change through animation and painting. He also worked for the Anderson from sophomore to senior year. There, he learned many practical skills that professional artists need—installing exhibitions, how to handle artwork, and working with other artists. In addition, Donegan had the opportunity to present two solo shows at the gallery.

“Working there also allowed me to observe artists as they installed exhibitions. Seeing their strategies and workflow made me more aware of my own,” he says. “I’ve made some valuable connections through the Anderson and would love to do gallery work in the future.”

After he graduates, Donegan will be keeping his options open. He’s considering working in either motion graphics and animation for an amination studio or a media production company, but he’s also ready to keep learning and networking as he grows as an artist. For him, graduating is just the next step.

“I came into VCUarts intending to learn animation but quickly realized that was the starting point of my practice rather than the finish line,” he says.