Douglas Degges


Why is it that so many of us want to look at something that is difficult to make, that maybe we ourselves couldn’t make?


Douglas Degges (b. 1986 Shreveport, LA) is an artist and educator currently based in Stafford Springs, CT where he is an Assistant Professor of Art in Painting and Drawing at the University of Connecticut. He received his MFA from the University of Iowa and a BA in Studio Art from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. His work has been exhibited in various group and solo exhibitions throughout the United States. Most recently his work was exhibited at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in Milwaukee, WI, Vanderbilt University and Zeitgeist Gallery in Nashville, TN, VERSA in Chattanooga, TN, and the Ely Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven, CT. His work has been supported by several artist residencies including the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Millay Colony for the Arts.


At a time when we have immediate access to anything, from sourcing information on the internet to our ability to capture and store images at a moment’s notice, analogue processes seem well poised for critically engaging newer forms of visual expression. In my own studio practice, I find painting and drawing to be great vehicles for slowing down and reflecting on the speed at which images are produced and consumed. My recent projects explore relationships amongst the painted image, the painted object, and the printed photograph. In these projects I’m interested in thinking through what constitutes an image. Much of the work calls attention to the relationship between the image, the flattened thing that we can hold in our mind, and the object that contains or supports it.

untitled (rubber tree paintings) - acrylic & enamel on canvas on panel - 2018

How has paint(ing), as both a material and tradition, influenced your creative practice? How does your work embrace or challenge the discipline?

I’ve long been interested in why we fetishize skilled labor and hard work in works of art. I think it’s fascinating. Why is it that so many of us want to look at something that is difficult to make, that maybe we ourselves couldn’t make? I think painting is a great vehicle for thinking through these kinds of questions as painting carries with it a history and long-standing tradition of works that exhibit extreme skill.

Painting, like so many other disciplines, continues to respond to what has come before but also what’s in the air and happening now. I think I will some awkwardness into the work and maybe that is challenging for some, at least in terms of taste or aesthetics.

untitled (props for pictures) - oil & gypsum on panel - 2016

The series, props for pictures, is heavily-textured, nearly to a relief level. What is gained, formally and conceptually, by this strong manipulation of material?

All of the paintings in my props for pictures series begin with a thick layer of plaster-like material that is sealed and then painted. The painting that happens on top of this heavily-textured surface rarely and only incidentally acknowledges the surface below. This process is a lot like working with a found object where the painting surface comes rich with its own history. The challenge, then, is to graft an image on to a surface that’s not really designed to receive it. In a way, the painted image, the skin, is at odds with the bones of the painting and the history of its own making. I continue to be interested in the ways in which this fabricated surface and suggestion of history speak to painting’s longstanding interest in fictional space and illusion.

untitled (waiting for ideas) - acrylic, watercolor & gouache on paper - 2020

In waiting for ideas you employ a pattern or tessellation effect with many small components working en masse to construct the image. How do you arrive at decisions about depth, repetition, and other methods of organizing the picture plane?

Most of this is arrived at intuitively. With these works on paper, I generally prefer working with the grid and all-over compositions, but mostly I enjoy working with repeated elements that eventually break down and give way to new and surprising forms. (Thomas Nozkowski and Paul Klee were early influences.) Generally speaking, I look for a form that breaks with the pattern or tessellation effect and try to press it in. Through contrast in material, color, or scale, some degree of space develops. The space is usually shallow as the mass of repeated forms typically holds a plane and offers up that contrasting element.

untitled (waiting for ideas) - walnut ink & acrylic on paper - 2020

Your work appears to be made with a direct and confident hand and each component feels considered. How do you achieve this aesthetic balance of intuitive mark making and planning?

Finding that sweet spot in the middle is such a challenge. I’m deeply invested in discovering things during and through the painting process, so both chance and working intuitively are essential to the work. I also love learning new materials and frequently find myself exploring new ways to build a painting and bumping into the edges of my own facility and familiarity with a particular material or process. I find that setting some parameters in place before beginning work is extremely helpful. With some decisions made early on, like simply choosing a particular size and shape of the painting surface for example, I am able to more fully, or more freely, juggle the chance operations and unwieldy materials at work in my paintings and drawings. I also allow myself to make a lot of bad work. In many cases, the work tells me what it needs and I try to listen.

untitled (pictures from props) - inkjet print on canvas - 2013

Can you tell us more about the interplay between your painting and photographic processes?

I’m interested in the range of hands at work in nearly all two-dimensional studio practices and enjoy mixing and matching across disciplines and making hybrid forms. Two projects I’m currently engaged in speak to this more directly. For the past two years I’ve been collaborating with photographer Sarah P. Smith on Flypaper, a project that joins two studio practices that, historically, were often pitted against one another. Our collaborative work ends up holding onto an unsettled and maybe even awkward marriage of two different image-making strategies. The tension is visualized by the collage-like process by which the images are built and also by the way in which the works refuse to settle into one disciplinary space. Works begin as photographic images that are scanned and either printed at a large scale or turned into digital negatives for the making of lumen prints. On top of these prints, we collage and paint smaller elements that punctuate areas of interest in the photographs. pictures from props, a project started during my last year in graduate school, explores a completely different relationship between photography and painting. My pictures from props works are all made photographically. Each work is a photographic print on raw canvas of an unfinished work from my props for pictures series. The printed images are always out of focus and the hues are often so close in value the image depicted appears to be no image at all. Basic figure-ground relationships only appear to the viewer at a distance and disappear when the viewer approaches the work up close. These works are, in a number of ways, bad photographs and bad documentation of existing artworks. I’m photographing in uneven and mixed lighting while handholding the camera and shooting with a slow shutter speed. The camera is rarely squared up to the painting and I’m never focusing on the work being photographed. With these works, I’m interested in conflating the photographic image with the painted image. I’m also interested in using technological tools in ways that they weren’t intended or designed to be used. The glitches and chance moments feel painterly to me.