Artist Jocelyn Duke says that if she's not giggling while she's painting, she's doing something wrong.
“All these words were making me laugh,” Duke says, pointing toward her freshly painted canvases filled with bright backgrounds and even brighter five-letter words. “I mean, who doesn't look at the word ‘penis' and giggle? It's so important to me. If you're not laughing, then you don't get it, and if you don't get it, it's too bad.”
Humor is one of the common threads in Duke's work. But so is vibrant color.
“They went from more muted bright colors when I was in Boston to garishly bright colors when I moved to San Diego,” she says.
Duke (jocelynduke.com) hasn't always been a painter. In fact, when she was in school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she studied printmaking, and, for years, etching was her main focus. When she moved to San Diego on a whim eight years ago, she found herself needing to make art that was more accessible—art that didn't require expensive equipment and a ventilation system.
She already knew how to paint, so Duke went for it, and she's been turning out series after series ever since.
“I have this talent of starting a series and then never finishing them,” she says. “I'll start a new series when I'm tired of whatever I'm working on.”
The most recent change in Duke's work came after a trip to New York City, where she stopped in to see Skin Fruit: Selections for the Dakis Joannou Collection, a show at the New Museum curated by artist Jeff Koons.
“It ruined me for the best,” Duke says. “It did. I can never look at art the same way.”
After seeing the show, Duke returned to her studio in North Park and became so frustrated with her work that she busted out the spray paint.
“I defaced this one,” she says, going through a stack of canvases leaning against a wall. “And I defaced this one.... I knew that I wasn't pushing myself and I knew that in order to push myself, I really needed to dig in deep and stop being afraid. Like, take ownership of being an artist.”
Before too much spray paint left the can, though, Duke reminded herself that she had to have a sense of humor. She spray-painted the word “smile” on the middle of her studio floor and it eventually led her to the newest, yet-to-be-titled series, which was recently shown in a solo show that will be up at The Ballpark Loft (1041 J St. in East Village) through Nov. 2 (the show is on view by appointment only).