Greenpoint Artist Paul Duncan

With two shows currently up at Greenpoint’s own Alan Nederpelt Gallery and Elizabeth Moore Fine Art in Manhattan, English born and Greenpoint artist Paul Duncan may not be so much a “madman” (as the Nederpelt show titles) as a canny guide through madness. To call Duncan’s paintings and drawings surrealist, wouldn’t be far off, but it would be a lazy stray from what makes his own personal landscapes so particular. Having the actual tour guide walk us through his world – as The Greenpointer was able to at the Nederpelt space – was to enjoy the full experience of being chaperoned through the “hyper-magical,” as the artist puts it.

With a mixture of recognizable cultural objects and invented characters, the work in the show manages a consistent hodgepodge of initially familiar wanderings that quickly dive into murkier depths.

“The image needs to step away from the object to another level,” Paul says. With a roguish demeanor and swashbuckler looks, the charismatic artist is well suited to speak in front of his hallucinations. To call the art ‘psychedelic’ would be misuse of another clichéd and inappropriate term (a term all too often stamped on to fantastic imagery). “This territory is not about drug exploration. It’s to do with the mythological element we all carry around with us. With my hand and some paint, I can filter these worlds.”

In fact the worlds depicted here aren’t really too far from the one we live in. “My trip to India and that region was very profound for me. To walk through the Himalayas and see Nepalese art that I had only seen in books and actually experience these things was extraordinary.” Like his artwork, Duncan’s storytelling can suddenly shift from dreamscape to visceral reality with surprising fluidity. “Well, I also got very ill on this trip after swimming in the Ganges! I lost half my body weight while my stomach swelled. After treatment from a western Doctor I had a chance to go to Goa where the illness returned and I was next found collapsed in the middle of a field. For days I lay on what I thought was surely my deathbed. It was here that I had the experience of being bathed in golden light. Now I’m not as religious man, but I remember that light as an angel. Whatever it was, I felt much better after that!”

“I knew I was still sick though, but this was enough of a recovery to wander the village and meet another kind of savior. An old man approached me and said that he had dreamt that a westerner would walk by his house at this time. He told me that if I didn’t leave immediately and find a Tibetan doctor I’d be dead in a week. Well I took his advice and went to where I had wanted to go at the beginning of the trip anyway. I went to Tibet, took the Tibetan treatment – rabbit pellet-looking herbs for a diagnosis taken from the Doctor having tasted my urine (!) – and was completely cured within five days. The whole experience was that of swimming through a mad opera and ending up in the clarity of the clouds. I went in to a period of meditation after my recovery where I became accustomed to what I can only call visions of super nature”.

Maybe only someone that would have continued his journey further up the mountains on an unguided donkey, as Duncan did, could trust and illustrate his own prophetic compass. “This all allowed me to invent my own totemistic deiteties. All this is allowed from my personal experience. You start to think if you could I use this in anyway”.

The madness of the exhibition makes more and more sense with further explanations for the blend of pop icon and unreal wasteland. “In Viet Nam for instance, someone could walk up trying to sell you an inflatable Spiderman off the back of a water buffalo. These works are just the result of processing my travels.”

The show is a veritable travel bag of world reference and cultural rethinking. It took an Englishman by way of Gulliver’s travels to collect these mirages here in Greenpoint.

Paul Duncan
Notes of a Madman: The Harvest of Reason
Allan Nederpelt Gallery
10/21-11/20
Sat & Sun 1-6pm
60 Freeman

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