Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Duncan M. Ferguson

For this edition of Fan Mail, Duncan M. Ferguson of Halifax, Nova Scotia has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.

Is painting dead? Need it all be conceptual founded? Need art be unique or is it enough for it just to be useful to the artist? Duncan Ferguson is young, about to graduate college, without a developed career or clear trajectory. Yet, his art (mostly paintings) shows a pursuit of subject matter unconfined by rules, allowing for change and freedom. Building a body of work has allowed him to observe his personal reality rather than define it in advance. I’m amazed that anyone makes it through art school still in wonderment, seeking knowledge and pleasure in their work. Making art as a commercial product is how an artist makes a living and income enables the pursuit of a singular vision. However, there is a warping aspect to commercialism and awareness of the potential viewer that Duncan has so far avoided. His work has vitality.

Duncan Ferguson, Beach Party, oil on panel, 3' x 4'

Your work seems funny to me–eclectic yet simple and flat. Your older work is much darker with foreboding landscapes, but newer works are lively.

I have always tried to be succinct in my work when possible. I think humor has the ability to be a very sophisticated form of communication and is able to bridge a lot of gaps. You noticed the distinct jump in my work from 2010-2011. The earlier period was the first time I had ever felt able to properly express myself through making art and was a really satisfying series of work, but I had eventually exhausted a subject matter, and I wanted to make work that had broader implications. I was also tired of black paint.  I think it is true of a lot of people’s practice that the physical production of work happens fairly quickly, but the incubation period is significantly longer. This has been true for a lot of my work, and I find it difficult to to continue making work of a similar variety if I feel as though I have already made my point.

Duncan Ferguson, Carry a Big Stick, oil on panel, 5' x 4'

Where do you draw your subject matter from? Gestures of a pink, some kind of pig roast on the edge of a deep green island? Yellow-ringed reels with whited-out text? Why such a blistering orange?  

The pig roast was more recent than the sunburned man, but both paintings share thoughts about expressing prosperity and status to others. I was thinking a lot about tropical vacations, lawn maintenance and old notions of masculinity. The blistering orange seems to be an effective deadpan colour for skin tone. The yellow-ringed reels and whited out text are appropriated from an old set of Wheel of Fortune. I spent a long period working with video stills from the game show, which features a stage that is visually overbearing. The stage has a presence comparable to some kind of altar, where a deity vocalizes its demands or accepts ritual sacrifices. The paintings take these texts from episodes of the show and leave them unsolved. Their depiction of authority is muffled or stripped of poignancy.

Duncan Ferguson, The Pearly Gates, oil on canvas, 6' x 8'

I see from your website that you have made some objects lately–a fabric covered oversized cat post?

When I began work on the scratching post a professor hilariously informed me of a long history of scratching post art during her forty years of teaching. Hundreds of them in the past, and every one of them covered with beige carpet. I think that was actually beneficial to this work. The scratching post was intended to reflect my feelings toward fashion in the world of art. I was thinking a lot about the lowbrow title fashion has, but its influence can’t be dismissed.

Duncan Ferguson, Scratching Post, wood, patterned carpet, 6' x 35" x 35"

Upon first looking at your courtroom paintings, I assumed that you rendered them from the television, like your Wheel of Fortune paintings, but actually, you were employed as a courtroom portrait artist.  

I was employed by the CBC for a murder trial. It is probably the best paying job for capable figurative painters, as long there are enough high profile court cases. Some of those images are from time I spent in court rooms in NYC. Drawing in court is potentially one of the strangest experiences I have had, and has influenced my work in the sense of how dead pan the process is. You can imagine how odd it is when someone on trial for murder wants to see what they look like in your drawing.

Duncan Ferguson, Jose Rojas Attempted Murder, mixed media 12" x 18"

You were recently in an exhibition at the Cooper Union–are you a student there?

I was at The Cooper Union while studying abroad. I am just about to graduate from NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, out on the east coast of Canada. The school has really been a beacon for fine art and has fostered a rich community of strong artists. Being in New York for as long as I was exposed me to a lot of people and work. My time there allowed me to think about work from the perspective of curation, putting less value on my identity as someone making work and more value on the individual work being made. At this point this is a luxury I can indulge in.