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The Duality of an Artist's Life and Work



"Caravan," 2010, painted steel, 40 x 28"
"Caravan," 2010, painted steel, 40 x 28"

Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Fall 2013

Chris Duncan might wish he could be in two places at once. When he’s not working with students on campus, he’s often in his home-studio in Canajoharie, N.Y.

But even there, Duncan needs to choose to work upstairs or downstairs: The lower level is devoted to metal sculpture, his main creative pursuit and principal teaching discipline; the upper level is where he works with paint and collage. 

“I am always trying to get some sort of dynamic relationship between different levels spatially,” he said, discussing his two- and three-dimensional projects. “A lot of my work is about balancing one element with another, about layering space.”

This spring, Duncan’s artistic energies were divided once again. His work went on display in April at the Kirkland Art Center in Clinton, N.Y., while he was 3,000 miles away with students on term abroad in Florence, Italy.

Duncan, a 25-year veteran of Union’s art faculty, has a number of terms abroad under his belt, including previous trips to Italy and China. His travels have rubbed off on his work – Chinese red-ink seals appear in his 2007 painting, “Lake Tehri.”

And while Duncan’s sculpture is modern, metallic and unabashedly abstract, he takes inspiration from the marble masterpieces of Florence.

“If I look at [Giambologna’s] ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women,’ even though my work looks nothing like that, I don’t feel that there’s no connection,” Duncan said. “I can say, ‘I would like to make a sculpture that expresses a similar sense of space.’ Art is about expressing your own personality and vision, but at the same time, you’re doing it in a larger context of historical sculptural issues.”