Cool and elegant, new works by Jay Dougan currently fill the Durango Arts Center Library. Clustered into three groups, they represent a relatively short and intense period of exploration.
The modest title, “A 3D Production,” says a lot about Dougan, associate professor of art and design at Fort Lewis College. Dougan has been experimenting with two new technologies for less than a year. In a recent interview, he said he powered through six months of excitement and frustration to come up with what’s on display at DAC.
“I wanted to investigate how to use machines to help me create my work,” he said.
And so he has. The exhibit’s three sections include wall pieces, what Dougan refers to as his drawings, ceramic vessels and shelf full of small, black plastic tops. Each group reflects different avenues of interest for Dougan and access this year to a 3-D printer and a digital die cutter. These tools enabled Dougan to open new doors and old memories.
Born and raised in Michigan, Dougan recalled being visually fascinated by pattern in childhood. “My parents had a fabric store, not an ordinary one, but one filled with thousands of bolts. ‘Pattern 36’ looks very like a textile with its repetition of elements.”
The airy, almost spiderlike wall piece resulted from Dougan’s experiments with the 3-D printer. He said he sketched the elements and programmed the computer to print out multiples. After assembling a grid, he mounted the web on a wall. With added light, the filigree construction created another design component – a shadow pattern. “I’d come back in the evening here at DAC and move the lights around to change the shadows until I got what I wanted,” he said.
Dougan’s ceramic pieces are entirely different than the 3-D drawings, but they also exude an interest in classical purity.
Tall, slip-cast porcelain vessels are something of a signature for Dougan. He’s explored the form before with colorful glazes and patterns. Here, he’s shifted to a crisp, black-and-white surface with distinct imagery, windmills and an engineer’s compass, by using a digital die cutter to create sharp edges. The precision is startling; the opposite of free-flowing color and texture seen in Dougan’s earlier works as recently as last September in the FLC faculty exhibit.
Lastly, the third experimental group consists of 23 black tops. They echo other interests that spring from childhood memories. Dougan has coded them with a computer reference, .tlt, which stands for “things like tops.”
“It’s the little boy in me,” Dougan said. “I liked to play with tops when I was a kid.”
For some time, toys and playground equipment have surfaced in Dougan’s work, reflecting the child within and also a reference to a particular person.
“Years ago, my grandmother won the lottery, and she used it to buy playground equipment for Berrien Springs, Michigan,” Dougan said. “Paying homage to her and reflecting on my own history, my own childhood is part of the process. So, this past year I thought: Go use this new program and play. Play is learning.”
“There are 23 tops on display here, more in my studio,” Dougan said. “I chose these for DAC.”
A year ago, Dougan said he didn’t know how to do any of this – 3-D wall structures, a new approach to porcelain vessels and 3-D tops.
“I make my own assignments and set my own parameters,” he said. “Limitations are great. They focus you on an area and you have to stay within some guidelines. I encourage my students to experiment, work in series.
“A year ago, I didn’t know how to do any of this.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.