It has been a long while in art since “going against the grain” actually meant something. Today it is an art world norm commodified in an art world marketplace. Ironically, it takes an artist working in methods from centuries past, appropriating exacting historical media, the very same materials used by Rembrandt, to be recognized as “going against the grain” today. Utah’s own Stephen Duncan is doing just this. Using ink washes of hand crushed walnut husk, his are refreshing works of curious vitality and imaginative charms. They take effort to appreciate and offer efficacious rewards.
Like 18th century drawings from Watteau, Boucher or Fragonard, contoured, gestural and expressive control is essential for Duncan. Like classically trained artists; he uses long-established methods leaving highlights white, applying middle tones, and then dark. The viewer may cognitively respond, through a sensitive appreciation to timeless and jovial subjects- caprices- to a delightful and imaginative engagement.
“Stilts #7,” is simply enchanting. Natural inconsistencies in the wash are makings for a bucolic and pensively moody rustic pastoral by day, perhaps a woodland haunt for a concoction of specters and spooks by night. Effortlessly striding through on ridiculously tall stilts, thin and warped, seeming at home on spidery thin legs, towers a pudgy half man, half bear cub. Below him suddenly sashays an apparition of a young woman with only a wrap, her hair in a turban. She emits effervescent charms (for her own vanity’s sake) to the man beast’s delirium. He is caught, stops short, as she nonchalantly swaggers by. All is imagination; nothing is real in timeless, jovial caprices, ripe with ineffable engagement and enjoyment with ineluctable possibilities and pleasures.