Duane Bousfield grew up in California making art from an early age. Earning a BA in Psychology, he continued studies in Art Therapy and Painting. In 1995 he moved to New York City where he lives and works today.
As a little boy, he recalls looking through art books and getting mad that everything was photographic… landscapes and portraits… He wanted art that set his imagination free.
In his twenties, Bousfield set off to create a style of abstraction as detailed as realism, as if Vermeer painted abstractly. Inspired by Kandinsky, deKooning, Bosch, Escher, and Klee, his paintings begin with rhythmic perspective lines that weave foreground into background. Surface and medium are always emphasized with textures, scraping, dry-brush, and glazes to show energy and movement.
Bousfield has three distinct bodies of work: Abstract Landscapes, Dreamscapes & Labyrinths. ‘Abstract Landscapes’ are geometric playgrounds for the eye, where composition & color are the main concerns. ‘Dreamscapes’ are abstracted dramas of allusive figures entwined with the landscape. ‘Labyrinths’ are spontaneous one-line drawings, often into thick paint – the line can be followed like a rollercoaster or seen as a whole image.
Each painting is a journey, and the titles relate thoughts the artist had on that path. Recurring themes seem to be basic human issues like: hopes, fears, searching, striving, love, loss, life, death, & God. Frequent images include birds, gardens, the moon, hearts, people, and labyrinths.
“My intention has always been to allow an image to draw itself. Like giving birth to dreams, I try to follow an image without interrupting its flow or interpreting its meaning. The titles suggest themselves during the creative process and are meant to be open-ended and evocative. Interpretation is a fun part of looking at my art – it releases your inner poet. Ultimately, my works are meant to be connections between myself and the viewer, as between composer and audience, or author and reader. Hopefully, by sharing my journey, it might lighten your path.”
Duane Bousfield has exhibited in galleries from California to New York. During Covid, he developed the Labyrinth series into gestural action paintings and has increasingly focused on writing about his work and video presentations.
Leslie-Lehmann Museum New York, NY
Esalen Institute Big Sur, CA
Apple Computer Cupertino, CA
Hello Duane! Tell me more about your artwork “Delphi”, and what inspired your circular technique?
Duane: Delphi, Consulting an Oracle was a breakthrough painting for me. I used a lot of dripping that feels like light raining down. To keep the colors fresh, I raked the paint over the surface so the transparent colors below show through. There is a lot of textural scratching throughout.
The circular lines bring life to the blocky ground. Animal life is rounded, while angular, straight lines suggest rocks, architecture, etc.
The image itself feels to me like a cave on a mountaintop, and I like that contradiction. It’s filled with light, as if on a quest for enlightenment. Needing advice is stressful and with the figures almost touching, we feel it. Ultimately, there is an angel upper right that prevails. I have a video explaining more on my YouTube channel, along with other works.
Tell us a few words about yourself. What does a typical day look like? Do you just do art, or is art just part of the picture?
Duane: I grew up in Silicon Valley, California in the suburbs and always seemed to be making art one way or another…leather tooling, carving rock cabochons, decorating wedding cakes, raising Parakeets & Cockatiels, and of course drawing and painting. I moved to NYC 25 years ago.
Now, a typical day begins making breakfast for my husband, of 19 years together, and our Havanese dog, Tonka. I go to the gym 3-5 days a week, “the more you do, the more you can do.” Audible books are usually playing in my ears – right now I’m listening to Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams & Reflections. I usually like non-fiction, history, philosophy, & classics …they got to be classic for a reason…
Four days a week I take the subway to my studio in Long Island City. Pre-Covid I worked in a SoHo Gallery 5-days a week selling Contemporary European & American Art, now I’m only there 2-days a week… Evenings, I usually work on my website, crunch photos, or write about my work.
New York is filled with museums & galleries, and I have to restrain myself from over consumption…my job is the make art not consume!
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as an artist?
Duane: When I was a little boy, I looked through art books for paintings where I could let my imagination go wild – art that could be seen in many different ways. I got mad that everything was photographic. I remember saying, “I need to make the paintings I want to look at.”
In college, I studied Psychology to better understand what the mind was and how it worked. With additional training in Art Therapy and Painting, I set off to create a unique abstract style that was as intricate as Vermeer or Rubens. My studies began with sketches to see how lines combined to make space through crosshatching. Eventually, these became full drawings and paintings, all with the distinct goal to stay abstract.
I love your phrase “giving birth to dreams”, in reference to making artwork. Do you have to be inspired by something to start creating, or you just start working on it and the inspiration comes along the way? Could you walk us through your process?
Duane: My intention has always been to allow paintings to flow like dreams – We grow eyelashes to a specific length without thought, why not paintings?
I start a painting with rhythmic perspective lines to insinuate pictorial space. Looking into the tangle of lines, some are erased & others are strengthened. At this point, I take a long look to establish the composition with lights/darks, determine the palette, and focal points.
My process is a lot about listening, asking what a painting needs, paying attention, and showing up. Inspiration flows from the engagement, and often seems hopelessly lost half-way through … meditating on the image helps, turning it upside down, seeing it in a mirror and of course, sleeping on it.
Title ideas swirl around, but rarely solidify until the end…sometimes it takes years…the title has to ring true yet be open to interpretation. My aim is to stay abstract and not illustrate a subject, so my intervention must stay incidental and subconscious. Dreamscapes usually take about a month to resolve.
The Labyrinths are more immediate, with most of the time spent mixing color combinations and building layers of color into a pristine surface. A line is a sacred event, clearing my mind to allow the dream-maker full control. The abstract labyrinths are especially fun to title. I encourage people to turn them and think up titles as a poetic game.
How has your art evolved over the years?
Duane: My first studies were minimalist drawings, cloud-like forms to see how lines created space. These were the beginning of Abstract Landscapes. As the forms developed, they became more lyrical with allusive figures and to became Dreamscapes. My one-line drawings came out of the minimalist form studies. They are spacial puzzles of how to fly around in space without hitting other lines… I realize now these were Labyrinths.
These are my three basic styles: Abstract Landscapes, Dreamscapes, & Labyrinths. In all three there are opalescent colors, faceted forms, bending space, and perspective shifts that connect foreground to background.
I have always wanted viewers to see something totally different than I do. I want to open the viewer’s imagination. That said, I feel it is my responsibility to title works to relate what the work said to me…there is a fine line between defining work and giving the viewer a key to invite exploration. Interpretation opens the viewer’s inner poet and lets them become the artist.
What are some of the stories behind your work?
Duane: I was always told not to write about my art, as it would detract from the viewer’s experience…like explaining a joke…
Now I realize that people like to know what the artist was thinking when making work. I try to be open-ended, descriptive, and poetic – contradictory thoughts, oxymorons, are like bending space and are perfectly at home in my work. Like the lyrics to a song, I don’t need to know what they mean, but I like to know they mean something. And I don’t fault “Stairway to Heaven” for being incomprehensible.
In reflecting back to the start of your artistic endeavor, what is the most useful advice you ever received?
Duane: Read Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky
Read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
See The Power of Myth by Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell (also on Audible)
I studied Art Therapy for a number of years with, Ilse Gilliland, who taught me how to read paintings from upper left to lower right, as we write. The upper part is conscious, the lower is unconscious. Jungian Dream Interpretation and Gestalt Theory were extremely influential.
What was the recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on the most, and why?
Duane: I just completed a series of Moon Labyrinths. At the beginning of the year, I wrote ‘Moons’ on March in my calendar without knowing what to expect, and it has been the most spiritual journey ever. I drew these in my sleep, the colors came out totally different than planned, and to my surprise, they’re mandalas!
The most exciting part happened when writing the blog post. This is where my scholarship comes through. Bringing these moons together and listening to each one was enlightening. Moons symbolize life’s ebb & flow through cycles that return like seasons – A much-needed reminder as the world reemerges from the Covid sequester.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Duane: My art seems to always take me a long time to create, and I always feel there is not enough time. Of course, everyone gets the same amount on the clock, and it astonishes me how much some people get done! Antidotes: ’Comparing oneself to others is Hell.’ -anonymous ’You can’t do everything at once.’ -Calvin Coolidge & “You are enough.” -Maya Angelou
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Duane: My niece, a child psychologist who died of breast cancer at 32, told me I have to make more Dreamscapes. I had ventured into ceramics, and on her deathbed, she told me the world needs my imagery and how important it had been for her throughout her life.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Duane: I am building a section on my website dedicated to prints of my work. My job now is to communicate the stories behind each painting and make the highest quality images possible. Art is for everyone and prints allow more people to own art.