Off the wall: Dave Durrance’s works on display at Anderson Ranch
Given his pedigree in one of Aspen’s original skiing families, it should come as no surprise that Dave Durrance grew up to be a four-event skier in college, later a U.S. Ski Team coach and then a ski shop owner. Less predictably, growing up here launched Durrance into another lifelong pursuit: abstract painting.
Durrance’s latest work, “Multiples,” is the subject of a show at Anderson Ranch’s Patton-Malott Gallery.
As a kid in Aspen in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Durrance mowed Bauhaus artist and graphic designer Herbert Bayer’s lawn, and worked at the tennis club at the Aspen Institute, surrounded by Bayer’s work.
“Herbert was everywhere,” Durrance said on a recent walk through his new exhibition. “There was no other force of art and design and composition that was really competing with what he was doing. And I was around it all the time. That really helped form my aesthetic.”
The geometrical forms of local Bayer works like the “Marble Garden” and “Grass Mound,” or the mural on what is now the Koch Seminar Building, had a profound effect on Durrance. Their influence is still evident in the abstract acrylic paintings that make up “Multiples,” a show of six compositions that use 26 total canvases.
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Durrance began painting as a teenager in the 1960s at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. In college at the University of Denver, where he captained the ski team, he began as a hotel and restaurant management major, but soon switched to studio art.
“I thought, ‘Well, this is the last education I’m ever going got get, so I should do something I want to learn,’” he recalled.
Through college and into his ski-racing career, he devoted his off-the-slopes summers to painting while working odd jobs — often using massive canvases discarded by Coors after they were used to filter beer. In the mid-70s, while coaching at a summer ski-racing camp in Alaska, he used the long, sunny nights to work on his craft. He painted less as the years went on and he spent more time coaching and running his ski shop, Durrance Sports. When he sold the shop in 2007, he went back to painting full time.
“I said, ‘Now’s the time. I need to jump off that train and onto this one,’” he recalled.
He set up a studio in his basement in Carbondale and then moved into his own space in the Third Street Center in Carbondale, where these days you’ll find him five to six days a week painting and sketching. He’s shown at galleries throughout the Roaring Fork Valley in recent years.
Durrance began the project that would become “Multiples” in January, during a studio-intensive workshop at Anderson Ranch with David Hornung.
“I was trying to figure out a way to work on a larger scale, and the only way I could figure — based on the size of my studio and my car — was to use multiple canvases,” Durrance explained.
These huge, multi-canvas works have a sense of depth and motion about them — an effect Durrance has been working on for most of his painting life. When Durrance was ski racing, he recalled, coach Olle Larson was making sequential action photographs of skiers. Intrigued, Durrance began outlining them on canvas and making conceptual paintings that attempted to capture the same sense of movement.
The new work “5 Degrees of Separation” is made up of five square canvases arranged in a horizontal row, each showing a glowing, moonlike circle against a dark nightlike background. Moving right to left, the circles and canvases get larger — the last one cut off at the edges of the canvas, as if the subject it too big to be held by it.
Such experimentation with interacting canvases and the white space behind them recurs in Durrance’s “Multiples” series. “18 Shades of Gray,” for example, plays out across six canvases on some 17 feet of wall space, with glimpses of purple and orange concentric circles captured on canvases — their arcs seemingly continuing unseen in the white space between.
An untitled piece using six rectangle canvases arranged vertically in a pyramid has a similar interplay going on, with squiggly orange lines running from canvas to canvas. It gets dimmer as it moves skyward.
“The gaps between paintings create a vortex going upward,” he said.
Jenene Nagy, the Ranch’s artistic director for painting, visited Durrance in his studio periodically while he was working on the “Multiples” series. She reminded him of the Patton-Malott Gallery’s tall north wall, and inspired him to use the space creatively with this piece.
Another untitled one connects its seven horizontal canvases through juxtaposed warm and cool colors, while the arcing shapes in them are more disjointed.
“Orbits” has a three-dimensional feel to it, showing a series of 10 spheres moving across four canvases against bold, primary-color backgrounds.
“I wanted to not only create a horizontal flow across. I also wanted it so it’s coming at you and away from you and going over your shoulder and behind you,” Durrance explained. “I wanted to create a lot of movement.”
Though the work might bring to mind orbiting planets, as “5 Degrees of Separation” suggests the moon crossing the sky over the course of a night, Durrance says the series is truly abstract. He shies away from naming his paintings or otherwise nudging viewers toward any particular interpretation of them.
“I really enjoy listening to people talk about what they see,” he said. “I don’t want to inhibit that. I want to leave you as free as you can be to see what you want to see. Any narrative begins to constrict you.”
“Falling Inward” is a bit of an outlier in the “Multiples” series — all of which Durrance completed this year — in that it uses a single canvas. It uses the same idea as the other pieces, though, giving the appearance of four square figures stacked on top of one another in shades of purple and blue, with a red center.
“Depending on how you look at it,” he pointed out, “it’s either going away from you or coming right at you. As it was progressing, I realized it had the ability to go both ways.”
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