Justin Duffus and Linda Hodges: Creating a New Narrative

July 26, 2017

Seattleites love storytelling. That’s what Linda Hodges believes.

While many gallerists have come and gone, the Seattle gallery owner has represented West Coast artists since 1983. She participated in Seattle Art Fair’s inaugural event, and returns this year with a new creative approach.

Following a successful exhibition entitled “What’s the Story?” Hodges said she recognized the prominence of narrative styles among the artists she represents. So, in preparation for the fair, she assembled a group of artists who create within the theme of storytelling.

Her booth will feature the works of seven artists, including Seattle-based painter Justin Duffus.

Justin Duffus, "Beach," oil on panel. Courtesy of the artist and Linda Hodges Gallery.
“We want the viewer to bring their own stories and their own history to it,” Hodges said. “And Justin’s work really lends itself to the mystery of ‘what is this about?’”

Mystery touches nearly all of Duffus’ paintings. His work highlights imagery from found photos, morphed into colorful, often dream-like or ghostly figures and scenes, and provokes contemplation with blurred faces and unrecognizable environments. Most of the scenes Duffus chooses to paint are detached from his personal life. Instead, the photos end up in his lap through a “filtration process,” much like how the top layer of paint finds its way to the surface through a series of “mishaps,” he said.

“Often times I end up destroying what I have, so it doesn’t become rendered,” he said. “The image wasn’t mine. It already existed. But I’m interested in creating a new narrative through the paint marks, and through this process it becomes new.”

Hodges admires Duffus's painting. At Seattle Art Fair, her booth will feature works from artists grounded in storytelling.

This constant alteration causes Hodges to struggle differentiating completed works from those in progress. That’s part of his practice, she said. But Duffus doesn’t subscribe to a process. Instead, each piece reflects the one preceding it until a collection gathers. While every painting tells a unique story, an overarching theme tends to arise once the artist completes a few pieces, and the body of work develops framework, Duffus said.

Bits of his recent works explore lucid dreaming. Many give glimpses into moments of disconnection, isolation, and sometimes solitude — what Hodges deems “sensibility.”

“I feel like I’m always looking for that lack of culture,” Duffus said. “And I’m interested in this detached feeling people have. For me, the found photograph is more psychological than it is historical.”
Duffus's studio houses collections of found photos, paintbrushes, and other paint supplies.

The psychological aspect of his work reaches beyond the photographs themselves. Duffus sets up obstacles and hopes for accidents. The artist said he often over-complicates tasks — makes the process unnecessarily difficult in order to achieve emotion through each layer of paint. He trades in potentially useful technology, such as digitized imagery, for the “dreamy” feeling of a Polaroid in his hand.

Before moving indoors to paint from photographs, Duffus painted outdoor landscapes — an approach that typically comes with greater spontaneity, and heightened environmental and technical dilemmas. Still, he attempts to transfer those hurdles into his paintings.

“That kind of anxiety you get … I try to bring it into working with these photos in the studio,” he said. “I try to create this fleeting feeling in a painting. Time is precious when you’re trying to capture something.”