Duggie Fields: Look Between the Lines
The iconic figures of British artist Duggie Fields live in seas of color and abstract settings to articulate the artist's messages about the media and our associations with visual culture.
"In terms of the subject matter of the imagery," said Fields, "I still think that the abstract, constructivist nature is as important for me as the more obvious figurative centers. The only message ever intended is that experience is essentially visual, not verbal. There are, however, always verbal associations that can be made and icons inhabit our imagination."
Since the 1960s, fields' work has been so diverse that it seems that the central figures, often gleefully awash in reds, blues, greens, and grays mixed with brown and orange, provide the focus.
This colorful language has made the work flamboyantly eloquent, as it entered the sphere of Pop Art, with subjects like Michael Jackson and Lady Diana Spencer. While the subjects seem most obvious to the eyes, his canvases are layered with countless influences.
"Somewhere in the conceptual, hard-edged images that followed, I started reluctantly, seeing figurative allusions," said Fields. "Realising they were there regardless, I began following them more deliberately, with a crossover canvas that started as minimalist constructivist abstract, into which I eventually placed a small figure of Donald Duck, transforming it completely, while being shouted at [during] the process by my head of the studio. From that, I realised I was onto something."
Fields' persistence in making crossovers led him to explore techniques beyond the palette. In the 1990s, he started experimenting with computers and, in a medium that has developed its own aesthetics, he found an expected resemblance to the fine art techniques he had used for decades.
"When I first discovered a direction on the computer, I realised that it was almost the same technique I was already using. . . just with another tool," said Fields. "It was my eye, my hand, and a mouse that replaced either a pencil or paintbrush. For decades my work had evolved in such a way that I constructed it starting on a canvas. I produced exact studies, first on tracing paper over graph paper, using a ruler and set square. I traced and retraced until I reached a final study before starting a coloured version that eventually transferred it to the canvas. On screen, I discovered the same process of layers over a grid and tools enabling me to draw straight lines."
Between the Lines
Field has crossed mediums with the same technique. By drawing over a grid, initially on graph paper with tracing paper on top using architects' tools, he arrives at some of the core elements of his style.
"My work has this built-in recognition of its own essential flatness," said Fields. "The flatness of the images gets constantly related in the drawing stage to the flatness of the canvas picture-plane. Now, in layers on a computer screen, I use straight edges on the figures and make lots of small parallel lines and lines at right angles. I echo the framework of the picture whilst delineating the form of 'whatever.' I frequently make small distortions to keep the parallels so that although there is an illusion of form, it is always underneath the strutter and subtly echoes the picture-plane it is sitting on."
This "flatness" may have come from the comic-inspired imagery that initially influenced Fields. At the heart of it is an aesthetic that culturally resonates with the hard-edged elegance of Pop Art, one that lends itself to reproduction through industrial processes.
This reproduction has taken on a life of its own. Fields recall how a friend spotted artwork in a restaurant in Japan that was evidently a copy of his work; some of the pieces emulated his style on subjects he had not done. Fields humorously turned this around by doing a copy of one based on an image of Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch, thus doing "the original after the copy." In the 1980s, he was invited by the Shiseido Corporation in Japan to exhibit his paintings and work on advertising campaigns.
"The Univeral appeal of Pop seems to lie in the simplicity of the reproduction of the imagery," said Fields. "Childhood cartoons likewise seem also universal in appeal. Asian art, in particular, has a history of flatness, itself an essence of pop. Possibly, my work seems to resonate particularity in Japan through the conceptual and constructivist nature of line I use. It has echoes in eastern calligraphy and techniques of drawing form that also relate to cartoons rather than to the more western tradition of painterliness."
While there have been attempts to categorise Fields" work throughout his secedes-long career, he stresses labels that include "Pop Art" and "Post-Pop Art" have rarely stuck, as definitions seem to disappear into an explosive mix that blurs the line between the familiar and the groundbreaking.
In one tongue-in-cheek manifesto, Fields described his work as "maximalist," but his montage-like figures are most at home in their undefined settings.
"My work has most remained an evolution outside the mainstream art scene, partly just through the nature of cultural timing," said Fields. "As a result of not being perceived as part of [the] group, from one perspective, I've had a certain freedom; from another, [there is] no choice but to go my own way, regardless. But something in the work seems to root it in the present. I try not to analyse this too much, so as not to become limited by my own applied concepts, which are always there, regardless."
Words Remo Notarianni