Empire State Days III
-Writing Life Reflections & A Meeting With The Danish Artist, Duizer by Jeffrey F. Barken–
When you meet friends on account of strange and unanticipated experiences—especially travel—the world begins to shrink. Well aware of this phenomenon, I was nevertheless shocked when, in the spring of 2014, Danish artist, Duizer, messaged me out of the blue.
“I’ve got your book,” he wrote.
We hadn’t spoken once in the five years since we’d met volunteering on a kibbutz in Southern Israel. Though we’d shared many unique and formative experiences; digging irrigation trenches, planting trees, hosting a radio show, and even witnessed a distant rocket attack on the Gaza border with Israel, at the time, we were headed in very different directions, and a future reunion seemed unlikely. Now I’d returned to the Israel on a book tour. For months, I’d been peddling my newly published short stories collection along the Tel Aviv boardwalk and on trains. Apparently, one of the copies I’d sold had made its way north to France where Duizer spied the collection waiting in the window of a used bookstore. The coincidence seemed all too rare.
Sketch By Duizer shows Barken and the artist together.
Since then, Duizer and I keep in better contact. As his artwork has gained recognition abroad, and I’ve launched my books, Monologging.org has provided opportunities for us to collaborate indirectly. This past January, Monologging contributor Allison Baldwin interviewed the painter during his visit to the United States. In her piece, Duizer in New York, the artist reflects on a recent show and some of the themes behind his work.
During that same visit, I invited Duizer up to my crow’s nest in the Empire State Building. At the time, they were renovating the 73rd floor. The entire space was open, offering a 360-degree view of the city and beyond. Void of tourists, and tranquil during the lunch hour, the immense empty room offered the kind of “unanticipated circumstances” that make a meeting memorable.
Sipping coffee from downstairs, we paced the floor and discussed the turns our art had taken amid recent adventures. Duizer had trekked out to Alaska and the Yukon Territory, where he lived in a log cabin. “I see myself as a nomad painter,” he has told me.
Duizer was reading Henry Miller. “My favorite New York author,” I told him, excited to share the book. The truth is, no other writer has had a greater influence on my work. I pointed down to the East Village, and the docks, and suggested Duizer imagine all the horror-stricken voices that were washing up in New York in the wake of pogroms and famine in Europe at the turn of the century. Miller once wrote that he wanted to “leave a scar on the world,” I reflected. I wanted to tell Duizer that I’m curious what artists will paint and authors will write when we tear the scar open, but the optimist in me prevailed. Instead I offered my guest a sober toast to the then, only festering, “Political Revolution” in the United States.
Duizer grinned. “The new Babylon,” he calls New York.
“I’m headed back to Ireland and Israel in February for another book tour,” I told Duizer as my lunch break wound down. “Any chance we’ll cross paths?”
Sadly, he shook his head. The world is small, but chance encounters strike erratic. Duizer was slated to do a show in London, however.
“That’s close enough,” I said. “Send me previews and details for Monologging.”
I was out of time. I called the elevator to return to my office. Drafts of cool air blew through the slits in the deco-doors as speeding cars whizzed past. Duizer hung his head in thought.
“Mind if I stayed here a while?” He asked, not ready to plummet back down to the swarm of people crossing busy Midtown.
We looked around. A lone construction worker was taking a nap on a pile of planks near the southwest face of the building.
The bell rang, and the door opened.
“Have fun,” I told Duizer. “Let me know how it goes.”
For the next few hours, Duizer texted me the short poems and musing scraps he compiled in his journal as he gazed at Manhattan below. “New York is a jungle of emotions that can be dangerous and beautiful,” the artist has since written to me, reflecting on his experiences in the city and the inspiration he found during his visit. “As you can stand and watch a spider web being created, you can watch New York as well.” He describes a time-lapse perspective and argues that at best, a city the size of New York “can only make an impression. Every person’s face, the streets and emotions are all fleeting,” he says.
The preview that Duizer released last month in advance of his upcoming London show, Persona, which will open March 30th at the Bump Gallery, and is curated by Richard F. White, offers a glimpse into the spider-web perspective and montage motion that Duizer describes:
Dramatic music builds toward an operatic crescendo as a longer shot of a rainy city street gives way to portioned snapshots of Duizer’s paintings. These instances of primary colors and shady canvases magnify details, including eyes, a goblet, a jeweled headband, and the hair on a man’s chest. The brief sequences are then interrupted by additional video footage. The artist walks down a line of paint in his studio as atomic bombs explode, and two men kiss. At last, the blur of imagery slows, arriving at the iconic black and white self-portrait that is central to Duizer’s show.
“The word ‘person’ comes from the Latin word ‘persona’ which means ‘a mask,’” Duizer recalls his fascination with a linguistic discovery. Certainly this theme unites the works that the artist will show in London, and is encapsulated in the lone self-portrait. The stitches on the right-hand side of the painting provide a quilted effect, as though the artist’s face has been patched together with different masks. The hands and forearms that frame Duizer’s chin suggest strength and camaraderie, yet the gold ring on his unmarried finger is a confounding choice. Last, the brightly cast eye and inky, unkempt hair reflect a flighty traveler’s instincts.
Romanticism for socialist ideals contrasted with the artist’s vibrant individualism reveals two poles in Duizer’s character. The less descript patchwork in between provides a fractured mask that hides the artist’s less developed features.
“Sometimes we describe ourselves with a title, like (I am) a doctor, a student or an artist. But the question is: who are you really?” Duizer asks in justification of his choices as he took on the formidable challenge of creating a self-portrait. “You cannot describe yourself with just a title, you must go deeper,” he insists. Again, the stitches to the side of the painting are the key to unlocking the image. Are masks merely a convenient tool for hiding underlying uncertainty? The artist appears to ask.
Duizer’s style has evolved considerably since his last show. “Persona is more realistic and intense,” he says. “The language is a strange mix of dreams, inspiration from my surrounding and the big city life with its many faces or masks.” Indeed, viewers will experience a masquerade sensation. Faceless figures are massing on dark streets. Amid bold, red-streaked action scenes, the scrambled expressions of Duizer’s characters inflict shivers and contradictory emotions.
From afar, and high above in my crow’s nest in the Empire State Building, I salute Duizer’s journey toward self-discovery. Perhaps my reflections on our unexpected encounters peel back the mask a little further, indicating the immense blank canvas that remains for this artist to paint. Persona is only the beginning…
Click below to read more of the Empire State Days Series. Visit Duizer.org for more information about the artist.
Empire State Days I
Empire State Days II