The Heritage Girl interviews… Cathy Donoghue

Cathy Donoghue is currently taking a Masters in Art History with Museum Curating in the Department of Art History at the University of Sussex. Here, I interview her about her favourite art, her placement at Monk’s House in Rodmell, and her favourite gallery. 

What period or type of art history really interests you? Why?

The period I’m most intrigued by is early 20th century avant garde and modernist art. It’s because I have a love of political history generally and it was a time of great ferment, social change and idealistic Utopianism among many artists of the time. There was a purity of intent there that became lessened in my opinion later on in the century.

I understand you did a placement with the National Trust recently, what did that involve?

I was researching the garden space at Monk’s House, looking at the archival evidence as to how it would have looked during the time Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived there. I was challenged by the perspective of which historical point in the gardens evolution to choose when considering restoration work.

Why did you choose to study Art History and Curating at postgraduate level?

I had done a degree in photography, but realised that my passion was really in the research side rather than the actual artistic practice itself. It was a good degree choose for that perspective. I love looking at old pictures and information trying to piece together a bigger story or come to new conclusions. Much of my undergrad was about that sort of project.

You’re also a very keen photographer, what sort of images do you take? Where can we see more?

I’ve not been so active recently, life is full. I’m looking forward to the time when I can get personally involved in a new photography project. I like to pick a subject that intrigues me or where I have philosophical questions, then adapt my artistic approach to suit. That can take me from wet plate collodion images to highly manipulated digital compositions.

Do you have a favourite artwork? Why did you choose this?

Artwork… I have many. My favourite photographer of all time has got to be Lazlo Maholy Nagy. His alternative way of seeing was truly original in his day. I look at his photographs and there is something about them that put me on edge. They are slightly unhuman…alien and make me think of our normally quite narrow perspective set my the height of our eyes. In life we don’t tend to try and see the world in this way.

And finally, what is your favourite heritage site?

Strangely… and it’s nothing to do with photography, curating or art history as such.. But my favourite place is Avebury. I feel a deep sense of peace and a continuity of human history there. It gives a sense of perspective on human endeavour. Another place I love to sit and be, when I’m in London, is the National Portrait Gallery, especially sitting in the Tudor galleries. I have been known to sit in front of the coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth I and muse on her life. Another place is the round gallery in the Tuileries, Paris. I was 18 when I stood in-front of Monet’s Water Lilies. To this day it remains the moment when I first experienced art as a profound part of life, rather than seeing art as decorative pictures hiding stains on a wall. It’s not that I think that Monet is the best artist ever, it’s just that moment being surrounded by purples and greens, opened my eyes to the importance of art as part of our human experience. Art and our appreciation of it, takes us outside of our immediate life concerns and has the power to change us in subtle or deeper ways depending.

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