Daniel Douke


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At first glance, Douke’s boxes appear to be simply found objects—à la Marcel Duchamp. They are anything but. These are paintings that are rendered in exquisite detail, with text, packaging tape, smudges, and dents all carefully observed and painted. Even the canvas is stretched and shaped to perfection. Yet, the backs of these paintings offer clear evidence that this is very traditional work—with wooden stretchers, canvas, and gesso all exposed. It is this loving and laborious human effort that truly distinguishes Douke’s art from the packaging of the machine.

Born in 1943, Douke received his Bachelor’s and Master’s from California State University in Los Angeles. His photorealistic renderings of Southern California swimming pools first brought him notoriety in the mid-1970s, but it was at this moment that his concerns shifted from pictorial composition and the application of paint to volume and form. He made his first cardboard box paintings in 1977. These referenced a variety of goods ranging from automotive products to foodstuffs, but all were as photographically exact as the artist could make them. They also merged painting with sculpture, further reinforcing their illusionism and blending the visual with the tactile.

In the 1980s, Douke continued his study of permanence/impermanence but with an altered course. At this time, he began to render scrap metal and steel in canvases that were in fact light and delicate. This series evolved into large-scale depictions of antique cigar-box tops with 19th-century embellishments, which the artist captured with loving exactitude. In the 1990s, he returned to contemporary products and found quintessential subject matter in the brand-new packaging and slick graphics of computer boxes. The iMac, especially, had become a colorful high-tech fashion statement. Its packaging and promotion fascinated Douke, communicating a truth about reality, which he felt seemed to epitomize our era and “its promise of a technological utopian dream come true.”

Excerpt from the catalog page of the exhibition “Daniel Douke: Bytes of Reality”March 26 thru July 17, 2011 - The Crocker Museum of Art

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