Here, Duncan told people to strip naked and enter a maze, which in reality was just a pitch-dark room.
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Without telling the participants, he planned to keep them there overnight. It seems that instilling panic and making his performers share his feeling of being exposed and powerless was the goal. Dream House: Rage Room , which is assembled in the middle of the gallery as a wood-walled roofless container, was proposed as a larger design outlined in the schematic drawing attached to the wall near the installation. Duncan wanted to configure several containers in the shape of a human brain, and at the center locate the Rage Room. The violent anger almost palpable inside it as vicious splashes of cow blood on the walls and smashed furniture on the floor recreate the debilitating resentful wrath.
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Such state of mind is understandable: after the Blind Date performance, Duncan was shunned not only by the Los Angeles art world, but also his closest friends turned against him. That led to a self-imposed exile to Japan. The only documentation that exists about the Blind Date is an audio-recording. In Japan, Duncan continued working and had dived into audio, exploring the ways of how it affected the body and how one feels.
A lot of the work since then evolves around sound. As a result, my perception of all existence, including my own, has permanently and fundamentally changed. Duncan is a complex and interesting character, sensitive to reactions of others, but not crazy. Duncan is a controversial artist, who pushed the boundaries of what could be considered art. Emotional response to his work is so strong that remaining indifferent is not an option.
So I devised an alternative approach, for myself, to processing and reacting to it — I looked beyond all of it and tried to see a human being, who was creating his art in response to life and growing in the process. Think of me as you will.
These two figures help anchor the work, letting our eyes wander off and return. Despite being composed of myriad images and details, one never feels that the artist got bogged down. It is a remarkable achievement. None of these artists worked in a way that we would associate with prevailing styles in New York. In sharp contrast to New York and Chicago artists at the time, these artists all pursued different paths and apparently were uninterested in what was happening in the so-called commercial art world.
In addition, the exhibition contains a selection of flyers and announcements from the King Ubu Gallery, which Jess, Duncan, and Harry Jacobus opened in , holding 15 exhibitions over the years and hosting readings and films. By bringing these disparate artists together, and connecting them through myth and Eros, Lim and Adler suggest an unbridgeable chasm between artists on the West and East Coast throughout much of the 20th century.
In New York, artists and critics valorized the visible. On the West Coast, there were pockets and networks where artists and poets honored the visionary. The triad would later show Alice Buckton the ancient pilgrimage trail, before Christine moved to Edinburgh, where she fell in love with Duncan.
She was seen as a bridge between the Celts and Christianity. Her legend recounted that she was the daughter of Dubhach the Druid and was conveyed from Iona to Bethlehem by angels on the first eve of Christmas. Iona was the heart of the Celtic religion and her removal from the island illustrated the Celtic demise.
By the autumn of , Duncan was married and had completed three masterpieces. Alas, he noted that his imagination had dried up, while he continued to be unhappy with his technique. Before the First World War started, he nevertheless managed to accomplish a few more paintings with mythological themes. The onset of the war, however, had resulted in a disastrous financial situation for Duncan and his family.
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As he was starving, he was also unhappy with his life as a painter. But painting is what he did and fortunately, a commission from Sir Robert Lorimer saved the life of him and his family. At this point in his life, his art also became more influenced by the Byzantine style, making for an interesting marriage between Byzantine and Celtic mythology. His own marriage, however, was unhappy. He adored his children and provided them with an interesting education, in which they knew about Paleolithic cave art far earlier than any other children their age.
After the war, his wife and children moved away. When friends saw them on the streets of Cape Town, Duncan came to terms with the reality of things and filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion. After the First World War, Duncan gained financial stability as a painter, but he felt that art in the s was a great disappointment.
A Conversation with John Duncan
He was dissatisfied with the Impressionists, whom he felt took too much liberty with workmanship. The answer apparently was positive. He was now alone, but Geddes was still around. Despite his masterpieces, he had always cherished the initial murals he painted there, arguing they were his best work. By now, he rarely touched upon Celtic mythology; most of his paintings involved Christian imagery.
Most of his new commissions were for religious paintings.
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His last great painting was one of Mary Queen of Scots, void of any mythical content. He spent time on the islands, including Iona. Maybe he went there because he hoped that they would reawaken his inner eye? Its shores, he had painted. But the drive to paint had disappeared, even though he continued to work on many projects for several more years. Then, a Second World War came, one which he was able to outlive, but not for long: he died on November 23, , aged 79, in his house in Edinburgh.
Some have labeled Duncan a madman. It seems Duncan was a child prodigy, who was — maybe too late — discovered and nurtured by Patrick Geddes.
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