In the Age of the Avatar, the line between virtual and real is becoming increasingly difficult to discern. Moral relativism, situational ethics, the encroachment between public and private and the distinction between objective fact and subjective opinion are pressing dilemmas that diminish shared meaning and social discourse.   The impact on the meaning and interpretation of symbols, mythology, scripture and folklore that inform and guide cultural consensus is dramatic and the consequence of obfuscation, confusion and opaqueness potentially brews a wicked elixir of internecine and intractable social conflict.

Spillage, Fred Duignan’s exhibit of new oil paintings is an artists response to articulate a coherent metaphorical reinterpretation of the myths, scripture, suppositions and ideas that form social cohesion.   

The Spillage exhibit comprises ten abstract oil paintings that seemingly emerge onto 18” by 24” canvases from a vehicle driven by the artists subliminal social consciousness.  Mr. Duignan picks up cups of paint and pours forth revelations and epiphanies in this exciting exhibit.  I asked Mr. Duignan what he was attempting to do with Spillage. He said it was about the paint.  He loves the smell and feel of the paint.  He gives free range to an unencumbered, unbiased muse in his approach to the work.  It almost seems that color and form are inconsequential or incidental to the construction of the pieces.  Yet color, texture and form combine to present striking metaphorical revelations and reinterpretations of social symbol and anthropological myths.  

Mr. Duignan names his pieces after they have appeared fully formed on the canvas.  Plato’s Cave, an allegory on the well known chapter from The Republic, is an intelligent comment on the metaphorical fading light of social responsibility and republican excellence of Plato’s idealism.  Or consider its companion piece Purgatorio, a reinterpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a seductive presentment of the insidious undermining of moral and ethical certitude of a society driven by the pursuit of radical entitlement.   Entry was another piece that initially struck me with a suggestion of Starry Night and Hieronymous Bosch’s  Gardens of Earthly Delight.  Points of light and various figures part to allow for an insertion into an unknown destination.  The piece is filled with moral and ethical ambiguity.  Enter at your own risk. Caveat emptor. The Gates of Heaven? Entrance or Exit?  Clearly an existential dilemma for artist and patron alike.

As an exhibit, one is immediately overwhelmed with the color and imagery of the work.  As one engages each piece, close examination reveals subtle form and a figurative narrative emerging from the splashing trajectory of the pieces to reveal the metaphorical meaning.  Here is where Spillage triumphs.  The metaphorical depiction dramatically aligns with form, color, movement and figure of every piece.    One piece entitled Metaphor offers a pronounced yellow dot.  The circle is universally understood and accepted as a common symbol of understanding.  It emerges as a captured truth that all metaphors hope to convey.  All of the metaphors Mr. Duignan presented in Spillage offer the possibility of consensus forming around affirming ideals and social convention.  As the common understanding of icons and symbols change, are transformed and appropriated to serve disparate political, economic or cultural needs consensus breaks down and the Balkanization of meaning is a consequent result.  Spillage hope is an expectant prayer that consensus can still be formed if we respect and nurture our spiritual center and shared human identity.

Consider Woman at the Well, a hummingbird sips from the lip of a cross laiden well offering an overflowing Eucharist of red menstrual effusion.  Or Cajun Rhythm, a piece that reminds me of Cezanne’s skulls or his wondrous still life's.  In these pieces it seems Mr. Duignan wishes to remind us to remember our identities as spiritual beings and to honor our artistic and ancestral forebears.  

Other Spillage pieces seem to examine and anticipate the emergence of The New Normal. Green Rising, Oracle and Chariot are motion pieces all suggesting a process of becoming.  Green Rising offers a primordial form emerging from the low end of the color spectrum of a yellow orange amino sea, poking its nose into the oxygenated air in a pre-verdant world; while Oracle invites seekers of truth to ask deep questions and Chariot bursts through an ocean of aqua blue worthy of the drama of the constellation Auriga.

If there is any criticism of the Spillage Exhibit it is the less than optimal lighting offered by the venue.  I also wished the canvases were larger.  Mr. Duignan’s large ideas warrant a large canvas.  Though small is indeed beautiful and size doesn’t matter, Spillage pieces all succeed with sufficient room and the artists smart economy of thought and form.

Reclining Mountain is a testament to the artists smart use of space to present dramatic ideas. Reclining Mountain is prescient art.  As the march of unbridled capitalism fracks the ground to bits, strip mining gorges the tops of mountains to create eternal open running sores and the Fukushima disaster released the man made atomic genie from the bottle once again, the far reaching inter-generational consequences of ill considered actions needs attention and immediate remediation. Reclining Mountain is an example of emergent symbolism in the post Fukushima world.  

As I meditate on the Spillage Exhibit the image of Neanderthals artfully etching pictographs onto the walls of caves continues to haunt me.  I ask what motivated these aboriginal artists to create the first pictographs?  Compulsion to understand form and discover and transmit shared meaning?  The discovery of the ability to channel subconscious libidinal energy to create a lexicon of shared social symbology?   In the Age of the Avatar where technology is fetishized and the muse fluently speaks the language of a market driven commodity; Mr. Duignan is busy banging away with the primitive tools of paint and a dripping cup, salvaging and articulating a humane iconography to remind us of our shared humanity and the absolute necessity to protect and celebrate it.  

Spillage Exhibit
Catskill Mountain Pizza Gallery
51 Mill Hill Road
Woodstock, NY

Fred Duignan’s website: Fred Duignan, Painter: Artistic Statement

Music Selection: Eric Burdan and War: Spill the Wine



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