Artist and Gallery Owner Pablo Dona on His Whimsical Art and Following His Heart to Miami
Pablo Dona, the Argentine artist and gallerist, calls his playful sculptures and photographs “a bridge to childhood.” That childhood—one characterized by the innocence of a small-town life filled with creative explorations and forest adventures—happened thousands of miles away from the city where he now lives and works. Miami, Dona has said, is a link between Latin America and the U.S.—the perfect place to open Now Contemporary Art, his now-five-year-old gallery. We caught up with Dona to hear about his upbringing in Argentina, the trio of new works he recently unveiled, and how The Little Prince inspired his life philosophy.
Artsy: Tell us about these new works and how you decided on your subjects.
Pablo Dona: My latest works, like all of my works, are a reflection of myself. I always believed that any artist’s work, when created from the heart, is a self-portrait in a way, regardless of the subject matter. If there is one truth about life, it’s that it is constantly transforming and never static, like a symphony each instant.
produced, which we sometimes don’t comprehend, creates a vibration that reflects our state of being. The subject of my work is just
a projection of what is happening inside of
me, in that instant and at each moment. In a way, it’s like I don’t choose the subjects of my pieces, but rather I get chosen
by them; I am a channel. This is a peaceful communion with myself, and the
result happens to be an art piece that I enjoy sharing with the world. So the circle is completed.
Artsy: Did you play with Legos growing up?
Pablo Dona: Never. As a child, I wasn’t interested in building things with toys that already existed. My fascination was to uncover a world unseen by the human eye, a world with no limitations, a world behind a world, where everything is possible, even a shark swimming in a teacup. I enjoy perceiving objects based on their shapes and colors rather than their function or name; this opens up a universe of possibilities. That was the child I was.
Artsy: Is there special significance to the
rubber ducky or the tea and cake?
Pablo Dona: Even though these elements are associated with childhood, I don’t look at a cake as a cake, neither a rubber ducky as a duck, or a teacup as a teacup. To me, nothing has a name or title; these definitions are only creations of our thoughts. These “thoughts/definitions” that we live our lives by, they only create limitations; even worse, they divide. But the truth is that there are endless possibilities associated with each object, and our minds are the ones limiting those possibilities.
Artsy: You’ve said your work is a bridge to your own memories of childhood. Can you talk more about this?
Pablo Dona: As a child, I used to sit on top of my house’s roof and spend hours observing my surroundings, the colors, the shapes, the sounds, etc. When I would get down from the roof, I would sit on the floor of my patio and look up at the same roof I had sat on. The house, the trees, the clouds, the birds—but strangely it looked like a different world to me. One day, this made me realize that not only was everything around me a matter of perception, but also that I was in control of that perception.
I lived in a small town with a big forest only a few blocks away. The forest was the place that shaped my life; it allowed me to connect to nature, to find and lose myself at the same time. It was magical! I could relate to different forms of life, feeling equal with them in the existence of the whole, but from a different perspective. The same way, for me, that a tree appeared giant, I appeared giant for a little ant crossing my path. I always admired trees; to me, these were the gentle giants of the forest that know it all by just looking and not doing. Butterflies were the angels of this forest, and the rain makes the leaves dance through the most enchanting melody ever created. I would climb to the tallest trees just to feel the world from there, but always through the heart of a child. This made me realize that it’s all a system in a way, and the perception of this system is based on where we are in life. One day, when we can feel everything around us and ourselves as one, our perception will change. But we have a journey ahead before arriving there.
The same process occurs when looking at a teapot, teacup, rubber ducky, marshmallow, etc. It’s all a matter of perception for the teacup to become a swimming pool, a teapot a waterfall, marshmallows icebergs for polar bears—the list goes on and on. This can only happen when we perceive the life around us with our hearts, not with our eyes.
In one of my favorite books, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry perfectly expresses this idea in a few words: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Artsy: Of your three recent works, two are “photo and sculpture” pairs, and one is a straightforward sculpture. Tell me about these mediums and your process in general.
Pablo Dona: I believe that there is no rule involved in the process of creation, except for the one that says, “follow your heart.” I believe this rule would be the only to live by, whether it’s creating a work of art or doing anything in life. What I mean by this is that sometimes I need a sculpture to communicate what I’m feeling, sometimes a photograph, and sometimes both. Each part plays an independent role, but when combined, they become one.
When the inspiration comes, the process becomes a game. Imagine a child playing alone with his toys, in his own world, where everything is possible and things can even come alive. There is not a mental process in this, no thought. It’s all fueled by the heart and imagination. If the piece demands a sculpture, I move to the area in my studio where you can find anything you could imagine, from little toy cars and teapots to miniature ladders and tools. When the sculpture involves porcelain, the process of cutting it is very slow; in a split second, hours of work can become nothing because it can crack or break at the very last part.
I enjoy cutting objects in half. One of my recent works is a scaffolding. To me there is a part of that object that is somewhere else, hiding behind the wall or who knows where. This technique gives us a sense of fantasy and whimsicality, triggering our imagination to think outside the box.
Artsy: Describe the work behind your tiny figurines. How do you make them? Is 3D printing involved, or will it be in the future?
Pablo Dona: The figures come from many different places. I find them, I make them, I paint them. The origin of the figure is irrelevant to me: What matters is that they express that specific emotion that I want to communicate with my work. In this so-called game that happens when I’m creating the composition, these figures become alive; some even have names. In many cases, they become characters that I know from “real life” as well.
Artsy: You’re originally from Buenos Aires. Why did you leave Argentina? You’ve talked before about Miami as a link between Latin America and the U.S. Could you elaborate on this idea?
Pablo Dona: I moved to Miami in 2001 to open an art gallery and to be exposed to a diversity of art and cultures. Back then, Miami was a city that was just starting to develop and grow in terms of its art scene, which was positive for me in many ways. Logistically speaking, I love the fact that I can fly very easily to the many destinations I visit for leisure and work. In a few hours I can be in NYC, where I visit my favorite museums and exhibitions. Another thing I love about Miami is living in front of the beach and taking advantage of the ocean, which has always been a dream of mine since childhood.