Sunday, February 1, 2015

Artist on Artist Interview with Chris Duncklee

For this month's 'Artist on Artist' interview it gives me great pleasure in featuring New England maritime artist Chris Duncklee.

This interview is unique because it was Duncklee who approached me seeking an interview. I first encountered Duncklee through our network of mutual friends via Facebook. At the time I was unaware that Duncklee was an artist himself let alone a maritime artist, and who has a great admiration for the late and infamous maritime artist Capt. Ellery Thompson and his work. It was interesting to discover that Duncklee's style of maritime painting is very similar to that of Thompson's work, however Duncklee has developed his own style of painting through his use of light, colour and composition while Thompson's use of light, colour and composition is a bit underdeveloped. In my mind, Duncklee's work bridges two art genres, folk art and maritime art.

And now without any further adieu here is Duncklee's interview along with selected works .....

Artist on Artist Interview with Chris Duncklee
Maritime Painter

Chris Duncklee

(Duncklee with a print of his painting of the Dragger 'Old Mystic', off of her Starboard bow) 

Polly - Hi Chris, it's a great pleasure having you here, and thank you so much for being part of the 'AoA' interview project! Ok, let's get started ... How are you doing today? Would you mind giving us a little background about yourself, where you're from, where you live now, etc? 

Chris - I'm doing fine Polly. I live on a mountain Farm that I built when I was in my 20's. The Farm is on the south side of a mountain and has commanding views of the Contoocook River valley and neighboring mountains. The Farm also over looks the lake I spent summers on with my Great Grandparents, Grandparents, and Parents. The cabin is still in our family and the 5th generations of Duncklee's enjoys it now. I was born and raised in Stonington, CT. My maternal grandfather being a shipwright at Stonington Boat Works building the famous Stonington Draggers and Motorsailers. His wife my Vavo (Grandmother in Portuguese) lived in Stonington Borough and spoke both Portuguese and English. As a boy I spent much time around the docks and fishing boats in Stonington, and admired how Cap'n Ellery Thompson's paintings seemed to bring them alive in oil paint. I had the pleasure in 1997 of painting a bow first painting of U.S.S. Constitution for then Mayor Tom Menino to hang in the Government center in Boston, Mass., for celebration of the 200th anniversary of her launching.

'Lumpin out Old Mystic in Stonington' 
16" x 20". Oil on Canvas. 2010. ©

Polly - Could you describe your earliest memories of when you knew were an artist, and how you discovered your affinity for maritime painting?

Chris - Polly it seems that I was born to paint the sea. I vividly remember coloring on the wall of my closet, trying to draw a Clippership at the age of 3. I also remember the wooden spoon that corrected me from doing it again, LOL. I drew in pen and ink, and painted since I was a very small boy. I mostly painted Draggers, Whalers, and Farm scenes.

'Vargas Barn'. 
Pen and Ink. 1986. ©  

Polly - It's a good thing the 'wooden spoon' didn't deter you from pursuing your painting! Speaking of which, your painting style is very distinct and shares many similar characteristics to that of Captain Ellery Thompson's works; in your own words how you would describe this style, and what was it about this particular painting style that intrigued you that you adopted it as your own? 

Chris - Ellery had a way of making the boats appear to be in motion, and was very good at the perspective of a boat in the water. I have always said all the color in the world won't fix bad perspective. One of my pet peeves of Ellery's work was his lack of light control, which to me sets the mood. I guess I had an obsession with correcting that in my work. I have a saying that if you light a match and let it burn out, that is the amount of time I have to actively engage one into a mood or feel for the piece. If it takes longer than that and have left one reaching, I have failed. I also have been strongly influenced from New Hampshire artist Maxfield Parrish, his low horizontal light leaves one with a feeling that the toil of the day is done and it is time to rest.

 'Charles W. Morgan laid up in Fairhaven'. 
24" x 36". Oil on Canvas. ©

Polly - Could you tell us about your art education and training; were you formally trained, or are you a self-taught artist?

Chris - I never really had any formal training, I had an Aunt and a friend of the family that were artists and spent time helping me with the mechanical technique of painting. I have a condition known as Synesthesia, where as I learn I have to transfer it to color and shape to get it to stick in my mind. I had a fellow musician tell me that when he saw me taking notes on how to play a song on bass by using colored symbols and shapes to notate sound. I learned when I was young the painting part of art is easy. It is learning how to see that was the challenge for me. 

'Coming Home'. 
24" x 36". Oil on Canvas. 2009. ©
(Private Collection to a Captain in Cape May, N.J.) 

Polly - That's fascinating! I wonder how that effects your colour choices on your palette. Could you tell us about your palette, do you use a limited palette or not, and what colours do you use and why? 

Chris - My palette is different for every mood I try to create. Some of my paintings have a palette of White, Black, Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, Yellow, Red. I find if I brush in the Ochre on the canvas into the blue it gives the water a translucent quality. I also sometimes use a palette that has no blue at all. It consists of White, Black, Yellow, and Ochre. One of the things I have found with painting water is always make your own greens, never use green from a tube as it will flash in the water in an unkind way.

 Duncklee's paints and brushes, and model sand box.

Polly - Tell us about your studio space; what is it like, is it overall tidy or messy, what kinds of things would a visitor see in your studio, and what kind of studio practice/philosophy do you have? Do you follow a set schedule or work as time permits? 

Chris - I live in my studio, it is in the basement, with an exposed southern wall which has a kitchenette and full bathroom. The main part of the studio is 20' x 20'. I have all my books, models, plans, etc in there with me. I have a box of sand in which I set the scale models I build from blueprints. This gives me an intimate knowledge of my subject. My easels are set up and ready to work from as the spirit moves me, and set so I can view them from my bed at all times.

Duncklee's studio space.

Polly - That's so interesting that you make your own scale models, not many maritime painters do that. Could you tell us a little bit more about your model making process? 

Chris - I found that so many artists that painted boats and ships had a hard time actually capturing the proper way a boat sits in the water. I too had this problem so I decided when I was asked by Boston's Mayor Menino to paint a bow first view of Old Ironsides for him that I best step it up a notch. This started with a large model of her and I set her in sand and sketched her as is it were on the water, a sketch that turned into a large painting that hung in Boston's Government Center for the ship's two hundredth anniversary. My true love for boats has always been the Stonington Draggers that were built at Stonington Boat Works where my grandfather was a shipwright. I had put off building a model of a Dragger because I really didn't have the confidence to do it. A few years ago I was contacted by Jim Spellman Jr the son of Stonington's first selectman James Spellman for whom I had planted hundreds of street shade trees in Stonington, Mystic, Pawcatuck as a young man. Jim Jr had told me that his dad loved my paintings of the Draggers. Jim Spellman Sr. was a champion during his tenure for the securing the town docks for the public and the local fishermen. Jim Sr had received a scale model of Rosemary R as a gift from the fishermen for his efforts. Jim Jr. told me his dad had asked him to give it to me when he passed, which he did. I restored that model and posed her in sand for a photo shoot of her in all her glory. I then remembered that I had a set of blueprints of the famous 55 foot Draggers built and fished in Stonington. I decided it was time to build one of my own at the same scale as Rosemary R model. Building the Stonington Dragger Tip Top took me about a year to build. It also gave me an intimate relationship with the sheer and lines of the boats. I also built a model of the eastern Rigged dragger Luann that I had the pleasure of playing on as a boy in The Boro. 

'Dragger New England in a Storm at the Gully in the 1950's.'
20" x 16". Oil on Canvas. 2013. ©

(A gift I gave to Jim Spellman Jr. as a thanks for gifting me a scale model of a Stonington Dragger) 

Polly - If you could try your hand at another artistic medium or genre; what would it be and why? 

Chris - I, at one time really enjoyed Pen and Ink, but found that I really could not produce the feel I wanted with out dramatic color and light. I love oil paint. The other medium I really enjoy is actually building full sized boats at my Timber Frame shop.

'Covered Bridge'. 
Pen and Ink. 1984. © 

Polly - If you could apprentice under any artist dead or alive, who would it be and why? 

- It would be without a doubt New Hampshire's Maxfield Parrish. His ability to bring light through a painting with technique was other worldly. He was more than an artist, he was a luminist. My other would most certainly be Ellery Thompson. Although he called himself a primitive, he had the ability to put a boat in the water and not on the water. Ellery lived what he painted and it showed.

'Charles W. Morgan Leaving New Bedford 1941'. 
24" x 36". Oil on Canvas. ©

Polly - Tell us what your thoughts are on being an artist and what has been the most challenging thing? 

Chris - For years I thought being an artist was more of a birth defect than a gift. It took me a while to incorporate my art into my life in all aspects of it. My art is reflected in my paintings, my timber frames, my wooden boats, and my life on the farm I designed and built when I was in my 20's.

'Scalloper Ellen Marie'. 
24" x 36". Oil on Canvas. 2013. ©

Polly - That is interesting you say 'birth defect' in regards to being an artist, it makes me wonder how many other artists feel the same way, I know I felt way as a kid - which leads me to ask; who has been your greatest support?

Chris - The biggest supporters of my art were my paternal grandmother and my mother. They made sure I always had the supplies I needed as a child. I would have to say my 2nd ex wife was also a huge supporter of my work and always encouraged me to paint.  

Duncklee's first attempt at painting at the age of 13. 
Acrylic on Board. 1977.

Polly - Could you tell us a little bit about your showing and gallery experiences; in general what it's like for you? And do you have any advice or pointers on those topics.

Chris - I have had the opportunity to show in The City of Boston's office of Cultural Affairs gallery in the early 1990's. I was afforded a 2 week show hosted by the city. This show lead me to painting a bow first view of USS Constitution for then Mayor Tom Menino's office in Government Center Boston. The showing of that painting coincided with the 200th anniversary celebration of the ship. I have shown in numerous restaurants, banks, businesses, and galleries throughout New England. I have a website that has successfully enabled me to sell my work worldwide. This coming August I have a show at Stonington Ct's Noah's restaurant which will feature the Fishing Draggers from the era that I grew up in the Boro. The only advise I have for an artist is: Consciousness and Energy create the nature of reality. Which means as artists we dream and paint = Consciousness. But we need to be confident and be our own biggest fan and do it with passion and don't be afraid to market yourself, be more than just the artist, go out and get it! Make it happen!=Energy. Your success and being able to take a bigger piece of the pie when marketing = Reality.

'Old Ironsides defeats HMS Guerriere'. 
24" x 36". Oil on Canvas. 2010. ©

Polly - That's definitely good advice. Keeping that mind, if you could spend the day with one person dead or alive, famous or not, who would it be and why?

Chris - If I could spend a day with Ellery Thompson as an adult I would ask him about his passion for the wooden boat and about his style.I was a boy when I saw him and didn't have much then to say to him ,although my mind was full of questions, but I was very shy.

 'Double ended Fishing Dragger Fairweather'. 
24" x 36". Oil on Canvas. 2012. ©

Polly - If you were conducting this interview what's one question you'd ask and why?

Chris - I can not think of anything, you did a fine job covering all the bases.

 'Stonington Dragger Old Mystic'. 
Oil on Canvas. 1998. ©

(Duncklee's painting was featured in an article he wrote for Woodenboat Magazine in 2002)

Polly - Well, thank you so much Chris for this wonderful interview ... as we close out do you have any final thoughts you'd like to say about you and or your art, anymore wisdom you may have to offer? 

Chris - All I can offer is for artists is to become their subject, get to know it. If it is a barn you paint, know what's under its skin i.e., Timber Frame. If it's a tree learn about what species it is, its growth habits. If it is a boat, build a small one. Have an intimate affair with that which you paint. 

To learn more about Chris Duncklee please visit his website ...

Facebook: Christopher S. Duncklee

Up-Coming Show: August 2015 - Noah's Restaurant of Stonington, CT.  

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