Ambit: Jon, quick question: why dogs?
Jon Duff: I started making dogs about a year ago when I finally accepted that I couldn’t escape representation in my work. Even in my most abstract work there was always a sense of gravity which ended up making the paintings look like a depiction of a pile or something. Dogs provide me with the opportunity to make abstracted works that each have their own identity which develops through their creation. The process feels really natural. Most of the works never get shown but making them is fast and fun. They loosen me up and it affects my primary sculptural practice in important ways.
Living in New York I see dogs all the time. Most of which are weird little trophy dogs that function like an accessory. There are giant dogs too, which always seem too big for this city. I don’t really have any moral opinions regarding all of this, I just think it’s an interesting situation.
I’m a big sci-fi fan. There are all these stories about androids that are servants or sex slaves, and they somehow gain self-actualization and ponder purpose and free will. We get a kick out of these stories because they make us think about ourselves. “Oh my gosh! I’m just another robot fulfilling my purpose to the greater machine!” Then you start having empathy for your toaster for a week, but you get distracted and just go back to seeing things like you always have. I see dogs in this city and I think about androids. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the situation is symbiotic.
The Dog genes are capitalizing on our psychological response to puppy face and increasing the odds of reproduction, but, what dogs we pick and how they function is a reflection of ourselves. I saw a guy kicking and stomping on his pitbull the other day, and I thought: “Okay, so this guy has an inferiority complex and needs to have this individual to beat up on so he can feel like a big man. He picks a pit bull so he can still feel tough about it. A real piece of shit.” I saw an older woman pushing a little dog around in a stroller, and I thought: “Oooof that’s depressing. This lady is probably compelled to play the mommy role. Maybe she never had the chance to have a child, or she has retained the compulsion even after her family has gone. Taking care of this dog might be the only thing that gives her life meaning, and the dog will probably die before she does!” Granted, maybe the dog had a broken leg and the only way this woman could get it out of the house was by pushing it around in the only thing she could find with wheels. But these are the type of goofy narratives and assumptions you create in your head when you live in a city full of strangers.
Jon Duff (b. 1986, Oconomowoc, WI, USA) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He gained an MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art in 2012. In 2011 Duff was selected for Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the following year he took part in the Triangle Workshop, New York. Recent solo exhibitions include: Panspermia on Amazon Prime, Current Space, MD (2016); Radical Sabbatical, MINT Gallery, GA (2014) and Lowest Bidder, Bedford Gallery, VA (2014).jonduff.com