Monday, July 8, 2013

Duncan Johnson @ Marcia Wood Gallery and Hotel Vermont

On a recent trip to Atlanta I stopped in the Marcia Wood Gallery and, although the show had officially ended, I was lucky to find most of Duncan Johnson's latest show still on view. 

The show stopper is certainly Color Code. It is the largest and most dramatic piece in the show. I love how the snippets of color are isolated between large segments of rough sawn lumber. The color sections become miniature minimalist paintings, each as interesting as the next. In part, because Duncan assembles his paintings from scraps of wood he finds at his local Vermont dump, the piece seems to be a perfect balances between the atmosphere of a rural, historic, environment with a cosmopolitan, contemporary art world. The two are often seen as dichotomous but here they exist in harmony.
Color Code
48" x 60"
Notice that Duncan subtly adds nails and graphite lines to the surface, perhaps as part of the construction but also contributing another layer interest. The lines and nails tie the piece together visually and physically.   
Color Code (close up)
Another close up to show the texture of the rough sawn lumber.
Color Code (close up)
With this side view, you can see how thin Duncan mills the wood strips.
Color Code (side view)
Hotel Vermont, a recently opened high end hotel in Burlington, had the wisdom to ask Duncan to enlarge the piece to be used as a focal point for their business. It is interesting how the piece states visually how they want to be viewed by the public, as they say on their website -- Rustic and Modern, Local and Global, Natural and Sophisticated. It is so tied to their marketing that they placed it behind the reception desk, used it as the background for their website home page, and an image of it is on their key cards. 
Color Code (Hotel Vermont)
79" x 128"
Color Code (moderate close up)
Color Code (close up close up)
Hotel Vermont even commissioned a video to be made of Duncan constructing the piece. It shows his process from dump scrounging to hanging.
With all of Duncan's work, there is a interesting contrasting balance between meticulous design and construction verses a casual acceptance, and even appreciation, for things the way they are. There also seems to be an appreciation for history and mystery. The work asks many questions of the viewer and provides few answers.

Other favorite pieces from his Atlanta show include:

Tug Sunday, with its stunning pastel series along the top;
Tug Sunday
40" x 30"
Decoder, with its cryptic partial lettering;
36" x 28"
and its time-worn distressed surface;
Decoder (closeup)
Flagman, with its alternately directional patterned stripes,
30.25" x 25.75"
and more distressed surfaces;
Flagman (closeup)
And Overhead, with its eye catching pattern of "Xs",
18" x 13"
and multi-layered peeling paint colors.
Overhead (closeup)
I find it interesting how Duncan captures the same ideas, techniques, and styles as so many modern painters, but he does it with real life works of art. Many modern painters spend their time building up their surfaces and tearing them down. They rough up their work trying to imitate the effects of time. In contrast, Duncan has found a sophisticated way to use the real thing. 


  1. Very well said and great images! Would you consider letting me republish (with attribution to you and your blog) on Vermont Art Zine? For now, I'll just link to it on our Facebook page but I'd love to share this more widely. Thanks!

    Vermont ArtZine

    1. Thanks! And yes, feel free to republish.