Mood, light, memory, nostalgia — Edward Duff says those words quite often when talking about his artwork. And transferring those thoughts onto canvas is exactly what he successfully does. It’s no easy task, especially when you see the world the way he does.
“I feel overwhelmed by beauty, and that’s the challenge — taking something that’s so overwhelmingly beautiful on an epic scale and condensing it down to a canvas. (The final painting) is a fraction of what I’m looking at,” Duff says. “I try to capture the mood, and my reaction and feelings. As an artist, you see so much.” The oil painter and art teacher admits it took a few years to train his eye to see. “When you study light and shadow, you see more and more and more,” he says. “It’s like you’re seeing too much, so the question is, How do I scale it back?”
Of course, he does manage to scale it back, but the intensity of the emotions remains. One look at any of Duff’s works and you’re immediately reminded of your own childhood strolls down to the beach, perhaps with a pb&j in hand. A vintage canoe soon has you thinking of your very first ride in a similar vessel.
Then there are the rolling waves awash in green-glass colors that evoke summer swims in the Great Lakes. As alluring as they are, they can also stir unsettling feelings: The light peeking out ever so softly from an incoming stormy sky has you contemplating days spent at the cottage playing cards or doing jigsaw puzzles, waiting for the inclement weather to pass.
Lone houses also star in his repertoire and may remind you of structures whose history you’ve often wondered about. “My scenes aren’t only visual experiences; they conjure emotions and memories far beyond communication through words,” the artist declares.
Duff says his boat portraits, like the canoes, convey nostalgia. “My blue canoe painting, for example, was a memory of canoeing inland lakes and rivers (Pere Marquette) in northern Michigan and Vermont.” He’s also a fan of old barns. “We have so many interesting structures in Michigan,” he asserts.
The artist, who spent most of his childhood in Birmingham, now lives in Rochester and paints in a home studio. He and his wife, Elise, often hit Michigan roads and head to his favorite spots for exploring, and he often sets up a place for plein air painting or teaching. “We love the Traverse City area, Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission, Glen Arbor, Empire, St. Ignace, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Saugatuck and Douglas (in southwest Michigan),” he says. “And, of course, Mackinac Island.” Duff says he visits these areas for inspiration during trips to galleries where his work is sold, including the Water Street Gallery in Douglas and the Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City.
If he’s not on the road, you just might find him at the Birmingham-Bloomfield Art Center in Birmingham, where he teaches painting. “Oil is the medium that I find best suits me,” he shares. “I can keep manipulating the paint surface to create luminosity and a timeless feeling. Light is very important to me.”
Duff says he’s wanted to be an artist since he was a child. “I loved to draw when I was really little. My subjects were always comics. I was also influenced by film and people (behind the scenes) like Ralph McQuarrie, one of the chief concept artists for Star Wars. Creating another world that you can step into is the best.”
The artist, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Wayne State University, says he became interested in landscapes while attending college and has been a fine-arts lover ever since. His parents are from the East Coast, so Duff would often travel there with them growing up, and that’s where he first fell in love with the ocean, which also appears in his repertoire.
When asked about artists who inspire him, Duff says his list would have to include Wolf Kahn; Andrew Wyeth and his son, Jamie; Edward Hopper; and Frederic Church (he refers to a favorite painting by Church, “Cotopaxi,” at the Detroit Institute of Arts — “it’s such a dramatic and epic painting!”).
“I’m drawn to imagery that’s dramatic, with a mood that stops you in your tracks. I make art that will hopefully move the viewer emotionally, conjure a memory, or inspire them to pause and reflect.”
Edward Duff is represented by galleries in Michigan, as well as the East Coast and the South. His art is on display and for sale through the Water Street Gallery in Douglas and Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City. Additionally, he does commission work and sells paintings that can be viewed and purchased through edwardduff.com.