First published: Fall 2023
Justin Duerr ‘s creative pursuits come in a variety of forms, most significantly an autobiographical painted scroll that has no end
Justin Duerr’s drawings call to mind the intricate designs and stylised figures in medieval stained glass and illuminated manuscripts. The fluidly geometric, horror-vacui structures that characterise his most ambitious work seem to map stretches of a vast, complex network, interweaving people, places and events over long spans of time.
Scroll Panel no. 32 / The Dust of Your Every Body (detail), 2021, 36 x 67 in. / 91.5 x 170 cm
Duerr has made countless drawings since childhood, but his most compelling work post-dates a revelatory experience into which he was plunged when he was 23 years old – half his lifetime ago. The circumstances: the final stretch of a 16-hour shift on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea, his workplace at the time. Exhausted, he began to feel an unfamiliar, pervasive warmth and a sensation of being pulled upward by the nape of his neck. Meanwhile, a white light approached from behind to envelop and illuminate his surroundings, transforming them into a crystalline domain where everything sparkled “like dew drops on a spider web... Every object, even the most mundane, a jewel of infinite preciousness,” he says.
Scroll Panel no. 26 / On the Heels of World War Five, 2016, 99.5 x 36 in. / 252.5 x 91.5 cm
For an interval out of time and beyond place, he felt profoundly connected to everything. His account reads like an encounter with a visionary archetype. In fact, it conforms uncannily to the Hindu-Buddhist metaphor of “Indra’s net”, a Vedic Deva’s infinite net with a multi-faceted, omni-reflective jewel at each vertex.
Duerr with a scroll panel and a painted door in his West Philadelphia studio in 2022, photo: Ted Degener
Born in 1976 into a close-knit, blue-collar family, Duerr grew up in rural Appalachian Pennsylvania. Literally raised in a barn, he was conditioned to expect little from his personal endeavours. It was assumed he would follow in the footsteps of his factory-worker parents, plodding on a treadmill of menial labour for minimal pay. However, by the time he was in his teens, Duerr began to visualise other possibilities. Bullied and belittled at school, he started to explore a private path through his imagination – a hallucinatory realm he found as alluring as it was unsettling. Meanwhile, he learned to channel his restless energy into creative pursuits, externalising something of his inner struggle through art and music. Inclined to panic attacks, he found these activities helped control his anxiety.
by TOM PATTERSON
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #116.