Born in Cork City, Ireland, Nuala O’Donovan spent a number of years living and working in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States before returning to Cork where she currently resides. She studied three-dimensional design at Middlesex University, earning a BA with honors, before obtaining an MA in ceramics at the Crawford College of Art and Design.
O’Donovan creates her organic, intricate porcelain works one element at a time before assembling the larger piece using liquid clay. The arduous process creates hundreds to thousands of individual components and takes a period of weeks to months. O’Donovan says she begins with these small elements and then slowly builds up the surface similar to the way shells grow or stalactites and stalagmites form: layer upon layer. She uses fractal geometry, first defined by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in the 1980s, to create irregular yet recognizable forms using the same principle nature uses to shape clouds, trees, and broccoli. Her finished forms result from an intuitive response to the direction that the pattern takes as well as the irregularity in the handmade elements of the pattern. The pattern records a response to random events during
the creation process. Her finished forms, while resolved, retain a sense of potential change.
O’Donovan’s exploration of nature’s irregularities stems from her interest in the underlying narrative of the pattern. “The history behind a scarred or broken surface is what fascinates me,” she says. “The evidence of a response to random events visible in the patterns in nature is a testament to the ability of living organisms to recover, respond, and continue growing and changing. It is the imperfections in the patterns caused by a unique experience that are evidence of the life force inside organisms.” O’Donovan has explored the structures of the Australian Banksia plant’s flowers as well as the teasel flower, Radiolaria (single-cell microscopic organisms), pinecones, and coral.
She has earned numerous awards including the Golden Fleece Merit Award and has exhibited her work nationally and internationally. Her work resides in private and public collections in the United Kingdom, United States, Ireland, Europe, and Russia including Crawford College of Art and Design, National Museum of Ireland, and Ulster Museum.