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The Scarlet & Black

Douglass Degges Zooms in on modern art

By Joe Wlos

Painter and digital artist Douglas Degges opened his show “From the Grass and to the Trees” in Grinnell’s Smith Gallery this week, displaying an intriguing mix of modern and postmodern-style painting and the “networks” of art that Degges derived from these pieces.

Susan Strauber, Art, enjoys Douglas Degges’s work during his reception on Monday evening. Photograph by Kathlyn Cabrera

“I wanted my paintings to function as a kind of DNA for my other work,” Degges said in a presentation to art students and faculty members in JRC 209.

The paintings in the Smith Gallery were created with his friends’ used color pallets. With silicone as both his medium and his glue, Degges built artwork from the failed or destroyed projects belonging to him and his friends, combining the colors in deep and barnacled layers.  As a secondary part of the process, Degges would hang the new work and photograph small portions of the paintings and their shadows.  The monochromatic works hanging in Smith next to the paintings are those digital manipulations—the next generation of his work.

Without knowing this progression, “From the Grass to the Trees” can seem dull and void of depth and appeal.  However, the contrast and comparison inherent in the network creates a unique and surprising visual experience, as long as the audience understands the artist’s intent.

“When I began to think about how abstract painting could depict the world or almost depict the world—looking like barnacled or encrusted surfaces—I could arrive at these really beautiful forms,” Degges said.

Although the paintings are contemporary, Degges holds that his work is, in a way, a critique of modernism and postmodernism, with its repetitive, but creative and derivative style and form.

Degges is currently working on his master’s degree at the University of Iowa.  Although his show in Smith primarily features the medium of painting, he also teaches a class on drawing, and his digital artwork is becoming increasingly sophisticated. One project he is working on combines technology and drawing to depict natural human movement.

“I would turn on these GPS devices anytime I was going to the grocery store or going to sleep, basically anytime I was indoors,” Degges said.  “The structure that I was inside of would cause the GPS device to miscommunicate with the satellites, creating these beautiful and almost automatic drawings, which looked a lot like the drawings that I was making with my hand.  I was very surprised and excited by that.”

Parallel displays of his art are another challenge that Degges hopes to further explore.  He hopes to take the concept shown in the Smith Gallery and extend it to paintings, drawings, and other works that are not necessarily of the same fundamental DNA.

“Abstract painting and formalism is really a place to have fun as an artist,” Degges told the gathered Grinnellians in the JRC.  His networks surely show the authenticity of his emotion and passion.

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