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Element x Donnie O’Donnell

Element x Donnie O’Donnell

When we connected with Donnie O’Donnell to chat about art, skateboarding and life in the North of England, he had just navigated across Manchester on his bike. This may seem a mundane detail, but for a guy who moved to Manchester from his native Milton Keynes to skate many years back, it marks a significant change in his career as an artist. You see, Donnie (also known as Joe) is like any skateboarder and creative. He has worked at his local skateshop and service industry gigs for years while making his art from home.

 

Now after gaining recognition internationally for his work, Donnie is creating art full-time from his own studio space. A self-manifested dream of sorts. His colourful and fun interpretations of plants and animals which began as digital illustrations and have evolved into mixed media. His portfolio now full of paintings, murals and wood sculptures. All of this is big change by his own admission but isn’t surprising that he already seems comfortable in his new surroundings. Donnie’s personality is just like his art—approachable, enjoyable, full of positive energy yet simultaneously complex.

 

As a ripping skater in his own right, we jumped at the opportunity to create a capsule collection with Donnie, knowing that his pixel-like repeating patterns would translate beautifully onto a line of clothes and a skate deck. As a brand created by skateboarders who are also passionate about art, Element proudly collaborates with artists on collections that stem from their respective visions of the world, and Donnie’s is just that.

To learn more about Donnie and his work, dive into our written and video interviews with him here and be sure check the full ELEMENT + DONNIE ’24 collection online and in local skateshops now.

Hello, can just tell us who you and where you are?

I am Joe or Donnie O’Donnell. I’m a painter, illustrator, artist, skateboarder and I live in Manchester, in England.


So, you’re in your new studio?

Yeah. I just moved in. At the start of start of January, I got the key.
I’m pretty settled in, but I need to put up some more like shelving this week and that kind of thing. I was sort of working out of my girlfriend’s flat that we live in, basically working out of the kitchen for a year or so and we sort of ran out of space. So, it’s it’s been really cool to have my own room to travel to. I feel like I’ve kind of legitimized myself. It feels like, “ok I’m going to going to work now” you know?

 

What came first for you, art or skateboarding?

Probably skateboarding, I guess. I think I probably always liked making things, but I think skateboarding kind of put me more focused on, “ok, I like art stuff” and it showed me a lot of the extra creative things that go on with skateboarding, you know? Like visual art or music and making videos. Yeah, just pretty much everything in that whole kind of world I got very obsessed with.

What’s the story behind your subjects and your motifs?

So I think it has kind of changed over time. I sort of honed in on animals and nature.
Kind of almost like, not by accident but it was an organic thing. I would always struggle to find inspiration of what to make a picture of or make stuff about. And I think I got into a bit of a rhythm, especially around the time of starting to make the wood cut things (sculptures) or actual paintings where I was like, “I want to be painting, I don’t wanna be thinking about what to paint”, I guess.

 

I like animals and they make me smile. They make me happy, and I add the feeling that I think translates, you know? That’s what I want my work to be giving out, that energy. I love folk art and I think that a lot of the folk art really like tends to be based around nature and quite everyday life, I suppose. I like to try and pick up on the kind of joyful aspects of that if I can.

 


What about the vision for your future? Where are you ideally going with your art career? Moving more into sculptures and stuff?


Yeah, I mean… I don’t know. At the minute I’m excited to be in this studio and I wanna see how that pans out and with this new and more structured way of of working. So yeah, I definitely want to make more of them (sculptures). I got to paint a mural in the summer, which was really fun as well. I like to work on such a big scale and the kind of the challenges that come with that.

What’s the overall art and creative scene in Manchester like these days?

I guess I feel like I’ve been just working from my living room for so long. I don’t feel quite connected, but I’m hoping that I’m going to now, you know? That’s going to change with being here (in the studio), but I feel like most of my sort of friends and people I know who are doing creative stuff are skateboarders, and the skate scene is doing well here against the odds of the weather and everything.

I think the there’s a good community. I worked at the skateshop Note for about 8 years.
That was kind of why I moved to Manchester, it was to be in the skate scene and with my friends that were skating here. So that’s kind of been the thing that’s always kept me here and always made me want to keep going and keep doing what I’m doing really.


Somehow it always comes back to skateboarding, doesn’t it?

For me it seems to, yeah.