John Duff at Knoedler & Companyby Tomassio Longhi
Considering that reductive form and the exploration of Gestalt psychology are only part of John Duff’s repertoire, the nature of his sculptures does not stem from Minimalism alone. Usually, the experience of minimal sculpture relies on the immediately visible, our knowledge of size, shape, and character of the object itself. The reduction of form and perception generally equals the reduction of time in processing our reading of the object (without any emotional content).
Duff’s recent sculptures elude all these characterizations. His work demands a considerable amount of looking, thinking, and feeling. Here, the deployment of geometry is complex, not repetitious but rather systematic, caused by playful constructions of minute symmetry and its relational dynamics: bilateral, translatory, and rotational. These criteria seem to be best exemplified in two works entitled "Inclined Form" (2001) and "Equilateral Torus II" (2002). While the former presents a triangular shape emerging from the overlapping lines and meeting points of four rotating squares, the latter employs the interchange of inverted volume, featuring shapes that are exposed within three circular frames in alternation. But there are even more intriguing examples, such as "Triangular Torus I" (2001) and "Triangular Torus II" (2002), in which three squares are placed within a perfect triangle and circle, some cast upside-down, others downside-up. With a display of stunning simplicity of form and an elegant bent of gravity, "Hemisphere II," (2002) suggests the precious beauty of Vietnamese or Cambodian ceramics, appearing as a planetary unit in flux.
Thinking and looking at this new body of work, I discovered the sensual aspects in Duff’s choice of materials. Using plaster, steel rods, cement, resin, or wax, he is able to subtly vary his surfaces and succeeds in utilizing materials that accommodate each sculpture’s specific requirements. I must confess that I was rather taken with the chemical bleeding of rusty red from the steel rods onto the plaster, which can be found in most of the works, leading to an unlikely marriage of wax and cement, the malleable and the concrete. In addition, Duff’s drawings are surprisingly lyrical and quirky. They yield toward another with a sensibility that suggests lightheartedness, transforming into sketches rather than finished drawings.
The exhibition, an unusual visual experience, left me with the rare feeling of completion. Like a restrained romantic with an inquiring and rigorous mind at work, Duff is a generous artist who is aware of the triangular dialogue between the viewer, the maker, and the object. His is an immense effort without being monumental.