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Recent graduate Jamie Duncan from Edinburgh College of Art spoke to us about his practice, the development of interpretations of abstraction and finding influence in the industrial landscape. Jamie's work flits between painting and sculpture with two-dimensional works often taking unconventional forms alluding to commercial signage and pictorial devices. In Edinburgh, Jamie's work has been shown at DOK space, Embassy Gallery and St Margaret's House among others.

Jamie responded to our questions concerning his work, influences and experience- read on to find out more...

Firstly, your work, it pivots on themes of abstraction, specifically its language and its historical contexts, could you explain how you have come to establish your subject matter?

My work stems from an ongoing interest in abstraction, this has dated back to as early as my foundation year. Since then, this relationship has developed and changed. I believe this to be the same with abstraction’s history. A movement which is inevitably linked to modernism but is now a subject of reinterpretation.

The visual language of abstraction has been adopted to express different thoughts and ideas. In each country and time period, there have been various shifts and adaptions to meaning of what abstraction is.  It could be argued that in the early stages, it presented a certain freedom to artists, which enabled them to engage with ideas and thoughts surrounding social and political issues, even those of design and architecture. This is evident from the Russian Supermatist Kazmir Malevich through to members of the Bauhaus in Germany.

Meanwhile in America, Abstract Expressionism adopted a different value and could be described as inward looking with a focus on how a work is made and how it looks visually. This type of Formalist abstraction was stressed by the critic Clement Greenberg. As a result, this left abstraction to be read as detached or separate from the thoughts revolving around politics, culture and design. I find this to be problematic for myself and subsequent generations of artists.

It’s difficult to separate abstraction from its complex history but I do believe it to be open to reinterpretation. To me, this initially raised questions of where abstraction sits within a contemporary setting. I decided to follow the overlaps between modernist abstraction and the visual languages found outside of a fine art context. I focused on the ‘graphic Language’ found both in hard edge abstract painting and also in the world of commercial design and contemporary culture.

Your paintings take quite an unconventional form- sometimes in the shape of a cross or hexagon for example. Why this form and not a 'typical' square or rectangle?

There is loaded meaning in form, and forms have a history which are never neutral. The fact a canvas support is not a square or rectangle encourages the viewer to read the painting differently. The deliberate decision to construct X or octagon shaped stretcher is a way to reposition painting from a fine art context into the realm of industrial design such as signage. Although the act of a making shaped canvas can gauge with this thought process for others. It can also remain to be a reference to abstract painters who embraced the shaped canvas during the 1960s such as the notable Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly in America or Richard Smith and Jeremy Moon in Britain. I utilise these constructed supports in hope that the work strikes a balance between the literal and pictorial.

Your work entitled 'Sub Switch' intrigued us, it's an exciting piece. Is the use of found object an important part of your practice? Where do you find objects and imagery from which to base your work from?

I guess you could say previously abstraction was a leap into the unknown. I feel with my work I look to the familiar as starting point. I usually find influence in the industrial landscape through materials, pictorial signs and functional objects. Each of these will usually have either a visual or conceptual connection with past abstract painting. I find this to be a way of reconnecting with a past but also locating where abstraction sits in the contemporary world.

I am glad that piece sparked your interest, a lot of energy and hardship went into making the two box-shaped canvases. During the construction process I felt both confident but also unsure how they would be completely received. It is only until recently I have been able to reflect on how I feel about them. The name ‘Sub Switch’ was the original name I entitled the piece which paid homage to the function of the metal panel mounted on the side of each canvas. Each panel is essentially a distribution board with a set of switches providing power/electricity to a room or set of facilities. The formal home of each panel came from the electrical facilities of Edinburgh College of Art.

Lately I have decided to retitle the work ‘Three phase [Mondrian]’ a shooting reference to not only the painted wires on the side of the frame but also a painting I admire by Piet Mondrian called ‘New York City I’ 1942. This specific painting marks a significant point in Mondrian’s work where two iconic components of what we know, or once knew, a Mondrian could be have been dropped; the black lines and rectangular blocks of colour. In many ways I see the painting to be celebration of the cultural influence of New York City had on Mondrian. Whilst in my painting I chose to reinsert the iconic black line because I felt it represented the rigid commanding quality it had in Mondrian previous paintings, as well as the idea of the grid and its influence on later art movements as well the architectural structure of the city.

Your work has been part of several exhibitions both solo and group shows, which of these has been the most significant for you and why?

A turning point would be a student show titled ‘Line/Gesture’ which featured two other painters: Pavel Isupov and Nick Perr, an exchange student from California. The show had interesting dynamic between the three of us because it displayed a varied approach to painting as a whole through figurative painting to the found or painted objects. Personally, I wouldn’t say it was my work exhibited was the best I have made, but it was a time of experimentation and it was also the first time I explored the medium of sculpture and this is what excited me. The exhibition was well received, and this subsequently gave me the break to being invited to have a solo show outside of the art college.

If you were able to choose any three artists to display your work alongside- from old masters to contemporary artists, whom would you choose?

The three artists that I would choose to exhibit by are Malevich, Peter Halley and Keith Coventry However, there’s definitely more than three that need to be mention; artists such as Malevich, Albers, Mondrian, Stella, Robert Indiana, Rauschenberg, Richard Smith, Gordon Matta-Clark, Winfred Gaul, Phillip King, Sherrie Levine, Charlotte Posenenske, Wade Guyton and David Diao.

More of Jamie's work can be found here:

Instagram: @jamieduncan_

(Thumbnail image courtesy of Joe Wilson)

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