Cynthia Duff’s sculpted wooden canvases embody the contemporary side of Colorado. Each piece undulates with a perfect combination of form, color and composition. Hailing from Grand Junction, the artist’s work literally pops off the wall. Her show, hanging at the Art on a Whim Gallery in Breckenridge, presents a wondrous experience of discovering what can be accomplished when an artist steps outside of the box and literally bends his or her medium in new directions.
Working with wood seemed to come by accident for Duff. Years ago, she was invited to display her work in a show titled “Bent.” Duff searched far and wide for a manufacturer or a do-it-yourself method to bend canvas into a rounded form. Without the means to manipulate canvas in such a manner, she turned to wood. Today, she has gained worldwide acclaim for creating a series of work that adds an incredible amount of natural beauty to the spaces it decorates.
“I start my work with this raw, magnificent inspiration,” Duff said. “I visualize it. … I become one with it. I use music, color, subject, shape and line to help me orchestrate my art. Once the work has started, it follows a journey of its own. My inner self must be allowed to flow and create. I am often amazed at the results.”
Starting with wood
Duff’s work begins with picking a flat piece of birch wood. She carefully mixes a combination of acrylics and wood stains to both add color to the piece and enhance the beautiful wood grains that are already inherent in it. Duff’s use of layered gold leaf provides an elegant and stunning shine to the top layers of each contemporary painting.
Fracturing, a technique she developed to highlight the intricacy of her work, allows for color blocking to come in swirling, seemingly dancing, patterns. In her landscapes, the technique allows her to present different parts of the day within the same painting by slicing the composition into sections. In her abstracts, the colors contrast and blend beautifully throughout the piece. Much of Duff’s recent work has focused on abstraction.
“I love painting landscapes, but when I begin an abstract composition, the colors and shapes start dancing in front of me,” she said. “I paint with music on, and I’m sure that has something to do with it. Historically, I have created more landscapes, figurative and wildlife work, but at the moment, I am having so much fun with shapes. As much as I plan each piece, the final result of every abstracted painting is still a surprise to me.”
While most artists would be content to stop with a perfectly composed painting, Duff’s work is only part done. She hand shapes each piece of painted wood into three-dimensional, rounded curves. As viewers walk past her work, different parts of the painting appear. Looking at each piece changes dramatically depending on the angle from which it is viewed. The curves mimic the shape of the tree trunk upon which she has painted, breathing life back into the tree.
With Colorado being such an outdoorsy state, the wooden canvases speak to the pristine environment in which Duff resides. She has also created a line of functional pieces that quite literally glows. For years viewers posed the question as to whether or not her wall sculptures could be sconces. As a result, Duff found a way to add light to her work and make the answer to the question a joyful, “yes, indeed.”
“Lighting my work had been an idea for quite some time,” she said. “I wanted to create something with bent wood that was both sculptural, like my wall pieces, and free-standing. I began incorporating the idea of a light, and the series started coming together when I participated in a woodworkers’ show in 2012. I created a series of six or seven lights on pedestals and have been making them ever since. People love them because they are fine art with ambience and functionality. During the day, you see the visual art of the painted wood, but at night, the pieces transform themselves into a glowing sculpture.”
Duff’s show features all one-of-a-kind works. Her use of natural materials and contemporary compositions blends seamlessly to bring an earthy and modern feel to her work. She will be demonstrating her work and explaining her process in the Art on a Whim gallery each evening throughout the weekend.