Joellyn Duesberry blurs the line between abstraction and reality with her monotypes. 

The Essence of Art

"The Seasons: Monotypes by Joellyn Duesberry with Poems by Pattiann Rogers"
Marsh Art Gallery, University of Richmond
Through June 26

It's possible that oil painter Joellyn Duesberry was too proficient at her craft. That's what painter Richard Diebenkorn told her while she was studying with him in 1986.

Diebenkorn, the American artist known for his synthesis of abstract and figurative styles, suggested a new direction for Duesberry that would limit her virtuosity, which he considered a weakness. Diebenkorn suggested Duesberry pursue monotype.

He wanted to "shake me up," Duesberry recalls.

He knew what he was doing.

Unlike oil painting, which involves measured, painstaking, precise and lengthy work in front of the canvas, monotype relies on speed and spontaneity. A monotype is a print made when a plate of aluminum, Lucite or copper is painted with oil-based ink, and paper is pressed on the painted plate. The print must be made before the ink dries, and the pressing means that only one (mono) print can be made from each painted plate.

"I seemed to take to it like a fish to water," Duesberry says.

Duesberry's facility with monotype is evident in an exhibition of her work at the University of Richmond's Marsh Gallery through June 26. The show is called "Seasons," and presents 40 of Duesberry's monotypes in conjunction with 12 naturalistic poems by Pattiann Rogers, loosely arranged by seasons.

Duesberry says that the demands of monotype, which she calls "a real exercise in distilling the motif to the irreducible minimum," inform her oil paintings, and vice-versa, as Diebenkorn predicted. Monotype "makes me understand the basics of my particular voice, and enhances my next painting adventure," she says.

The Marsh Gallery show is a homecoming of sorts for Duesberry, 55, a Richmond native educated at Bon Air Elementary School and Collegiate School, and who now lives in Colorado. But she confesses that she doesn't know anyone in Richmond anymore. "It's an abstract homecoming, but it's good," Duesberry says. "That's exciting to me."

More important than the location, though, is the quality of the work. Duesberry has been working in monotype for more than 10 years, but hasn't shown her work. This is the first time she will be able to see a large selection of her monotypes in a gallery setting.

Duesberry's monotypes are luminous, bright, loose landscapes painted in broad, thick strokes and colors. She relies on planes and fields of color, as Cezanne did, to create space and perspective.

Duesberry thrives on the time constraints inherent in monotype, which means that sometimes she paints for hours at a time and immediately makes a print. If she goes to bed without printing, the ink will dry and the work will be lost.

"I like the idea of working fast," Duesberry explains. "It's so opposite to the painstaking work of oil. I cultivate the urgency, I find it makes me more decisive."

The speed that monotype requires, and the nature of the press, which can blur colors and lines together, gives the work a slightly abstract flavor, and that's another quality that Duesberry appreciates.

"The tension between believable realism and abstract, quirky, personal vision is the thing that interests me the most," Duesberry says. "[The work is] not abstract, [and] not real. I like the in-between, where the two kind of jostle each other around a little."

Duesberry's extreme perspective, in works like "Granite Quarry Triptych" and "September Morning, Middleburg, Virginia," further blurs the line between realistic and abstract. The land in these works drops away precipitously from the picture plane, and the viewer almost feels precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff.

That unique perspective isn't an accident. Duesberry travels with her husband, a "roving cardiologist pilot," in a small plane all over the country, painting while he works or fishes. "I see land from a very special vantage point that nobody ever sees," Duesberry explains.

Each of Duesberry's monotypes is taken from one of her oil paintings, which are always executed outdoors, and on-site. In the warmer months, she paints outside. And during the winter, she creates monotypes. "I'm a squirrel gathering nuts all summer, painting, and in the winter I can harvest monotypes from the paintings," Duesberry says.

The artist is thrilled at the prospect of seeing 40 of her works, culled from a body of more than 700 pieces, on display. "I predict that slowly, the lessons learned by seeing all these works under one roof will show me a new direction, and instruct me about where "I've been," she


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