Douglas Degges was quite an interesting person to hear, see, and learn from. From the moment he began speaking to our class, it was evident that he was full of ideas, concepts, and themes that he’s spent plenty of time thinking upon and working through. He seemed to be a person unafraid of telling it like it is; of being brutally honest with us and with his own thoughts, feelings, and musings, even if it came at the price of seeming not to ‘have it all together’, and it was honestly refreshing. I’m appreciative of how open he was with the class, how willing he was to answer tough questions and give us honest answers. He had no pretensions about being incredibly successful, or knowledgable, or ‘having arrived’. He’s human, he questions, he experiments, he struggles, just like the rest of us, and he knows it.
I’m glad he spoke so much about collaboration and his experience with it. Here at Houghton, I don’t feel as if we (art students) ever really spend a great amount of time, energy or effort on collaborative pieces or projects. There are exceptions to this, of course, where its been important to work together, such as in the recent paper making class, but I feel as if this is the exception to the rule. Most of the time we are encouraged to explore our own thought processes, our own themes, own pieces, singularily. So it was enlightening to hear him talk of the lack of control in a collaborative piece, of the fear and threat of hurting someone’s feelings and in turn being hurt yourself in the process, of the long, glacial paced conversation that happens when you collaborate through the mail. I love how he spoke of his mentors and his collaborative groups, conversely made up of twenty, forty, and seventy year olds, and how they all bring their own wealth of knowledge, perspective, and story, how they all challenge him in their own ways.
Besides his collaborative work, Douglas has a huge and varying body of his own work. He tends to be content in taking on large series and ideas at a time. Of note are his sculptures of blown up line drawings made up of written word, his work and exploration with GPS tracking devices as they scatter frantically, trying to chart his every movement, and his experimentation with his ugly, chunky paintings. He spoke of how he purposefully pusues color, texture, and shape that he finds unappealing. Its a virtue, to him, to be able to work with ‘ugly’ material, and still be able to create something out of it. He wants to feel uncomfortable, he wants to feel challenged, in front of his own work, in his own studio.
He shared with us a bit about his other various jobs; being an art handler, being an artist’s assistant, whatever it takes to stay connected with the art world and other artists. His recent move to New York city, and all of the merits but also all of the detriments to living so close to the art scene. He laments that perhaps he’s become a little too saturated, and dangerously so, with all of the art out there in the world, how there’s an abundance of bad work out there, that often frustratingly receives undeserved recognition. He encouraged us then, not to make bad work, and to make lots of it.
Douglas Degges loves the push and pull, the stretching and shifting of boundaries between the beautiful and pure, and the raw, gestural and guttural. He rejects the safe and complacent. He delights in the unexpected, the uncomfortable surprise his own work brings him, and leaving us with these words, “Alone in my studio, I get to be someone else.”