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PLUNGE︱Annie Duncan ︱Rag #3

Plunge Rag is a series of publications featuring studio visits and interviews with the artists behind Plunge, the line of beach and bath towels I have produced since June 2020. Each artist was kind enough to invite me into their workspace, talk about their creative path, and offer insight into their practice. I’ve never been so inspired as when I was engaged in these discussions. I hope you will find them energizing and motivating for your own artistic journey while feeling more connected to this group of talented rising artists whose work I admire so much. ~ jessica thrornton murphy

The following interview is an excerpt from Plunge Rag Volume 3 and was first published in April 2023.

Annie Duncan is a painter and sculptor from San Francisco, where the light and colors of the landscape have always inspired her. Her work draws from personal narratives and examines the objects, patterns, colors, and people that compose her lived experience. The world conveyed in her paintings and sculptures oscillates between dream and reality, with one foot in each. She explores themes like intimacy and evolving notions of femininity, lingering on the subjects that accumulate to form an archive of emotive, everyday moments.

Annie has worked as a teaching artist in residence at the Oxbow School, printmaking teacher at the Putney School Summer Arts in Putney, Vermont, and an emerging fellow at gallery route one in Point Reyes Station, CA. She received a BA from Vassar College in 2019, with a major in Urban Studies and a minor in Studio Art. At the time of this interview she was still pursuing her MFA at California College of the Arts, and we met with her in her studio one day last September to see what she’d been up to. Annie has since graduated and gone on to show her work in solo exhibitions, group shows, and continues teaching and attending various residences across the USA.

Plunge: Have you always made art?

Annie: My dad is an architect so we were always drawing and working on little projects. And

I took ceramics classes from a really young age, so I was always making things. And then I think from there it was just a question later like, am I into architecture, design, graphic design…?

And you grew up in San Francisco?

Yeah, I grew up here in the city.

What made you want to come back after you went to Vassar?

Well I kind of circled back during the pandemic and I think it felt really good to be at home and out in Pt. Reyes, too, out in nature. It’s super beautiful. I didn’t really realize but I still have so much community here and I’m reconnecting with so many different people. And actually, I’m really glad I came back.

How far along are you in MFA here at CCA?

This is the second year. It’s only a two year program.

Is all the work that we’re seeing here for school?

Yeah, well at this point the program is kind of just your own practice. Like everything here I made over the summer and last spring. It’s such a blessing to have this space. Over the summer I was here working everyday.

Is your MFA in painting?

Yeah, I mean it’s super open. There’s like thirty-five people in the class and everyone does totally different things.

From the looks of your studio it seems like you’re doing a little bit of everything as well.

Yeah that’s what I’m trying to do… Trying to bring it all together.

Your sculptures are very painterly. Was that something that happened naturally or did you have to work towards finding a cohesive style?

Well, when I started making the ceramic objects a couple years ago, I realized [that], with the underglazes, you can kind of just treat them like you would canvases. You can really have a palette and paint them in a way that’s much more like painting and less what people think of as clay.

What’s your practice like? What’s a day in the life of Annie?

Oh usually I get here by 9:30. Usually I bike here, which is a good little bike ride. I live over in NoPA, off the panhandle. And then I get here and usually I’ll try and paint all day. Now I am TA’ing at a ceramics class so usually I’ll do a few days a week of clay.

Do you find that you give yourself challenges?

Yeah, I feel like that’s where school is useful because people really prod you with ideas and what to do next. Now I’m trying to challenge myself with painting really big.

Yeah, I feel like it’s fun to see the scale of your work here in person. Do you sketch before you go to the canvas?

Usually with the big ones I’ll do a few studies before. It’s helpful.

What are you working on now?

Now I’m working [a new] painting and I’m trying to sort of do still life narratives. We’re also writing theses this semester, so I’m trying to articulate more of my ideas.

So, why still life?

It’s kind of a recent development. I was working on bigger paintings before that were more like spaces and figures. But I realized I was more interested in the little moments with the objects in the still life and the stories they tell. So I just zeroed in on that. And it also made a lot of sense with the ceramic objects that I was making, to kind of have a conversation. I also like how still life historically has all these crazy connotations and objects have different symbolisms. Now I’m trying to take that into a more contemporary zone.

Did the objects that you’re making come before the still life paintings?

I think they did. It might have been simultaneous. But I’ve always made ceramics like that. I think I’m just a very tactile person and like objects with really rich stories. I actually found this really big box of [my] first grade ceramics and they look exactly like these. I was like-- oh god. I was thinking recently about the toys that I had as a kid -- like dolls and Playmobil or Polly Pockets -- and they had all these accessories and rubber shoes. And even Barbies too. I became totally obsessed with their little worlds and setting up little situations. And I think that will come back into the work somehow.

Is your ultimate goal to do art full time?

Yeah I mean that’s definitely the goal. I’d also love to teach. It’s fun to be a student and

be a teacher.

What part of the process of making art excites you most?

I think right now I am just really enjoying clay and not knowing where things will go. And I think things work well when I surprise myself. I think that’s been when I’ve been successful. I’m really just enjoying playing right now.

When have you felt the most successful so far?

I feel like right now I’m in a little groove. Not that I’m at my most successful, but I feel like

I’ve kind of hit a grind and I’m really excited to be in the studio. And I have a bunch of Ideas.

What is it that makes you feel like -- yes, this is working, or things are coming together?

I think when I finish a painting sometimes I just know whether it’s good or not. And it was actually nice over the summer, to not have any feedback from anyone and not really think about that at all.

I can imagine that felt very freeing after heavy school critiques. Do you ever find yourself stuck or not able to make art?

Usually, I am constantly messing around with something. But that’s when I think it’s helpful to have different mediums because if painting is getting stuck, you just jump ship and you play with clay for a while.

That momentum seems to be a really important thing for any practice.

Totally. And It’s really fun to have parameters. I actually really love things like that too.

I love your use of light and you’re so playful with perspective. The way you bring things to life through color is exciting.

Thank you. I’ve actually gone back to working from life. It’s so funny like I was working from memory or taking photos. And before it was kind of about working from memory but now that I’ve actually gone back to setting up a still life and working from real life --it’s been really fun.

Is color theory a big part of your practice?

I actually took an Albers color class in undergrad which was really wacky and not at all I was expecting but it was really cool. And now it’s embedded in everything I do.

I’m sure it’s crazy to think that your schooling is almost done.

It is crazy. I’m also like, “what am I going to do without this studio?” I’m applying to a bunch of stuff right now for after school, so we’ll see what happens… Residencies and a few fellowships… Just gotta cast wide.

It seems like a lot of your path has unfolded through school but what else do you think has contributed to your creative path? Do you have any insight for other young artists about how to be an artist?

I feel like that’s what I’m always asking. I try to show up to everything that comes on my radar, like shows. Especially in the Bay. I meet people that way. Also just getting out — I have a studio in a building which is kind of nice as opposed to a home studio. Community is so important to being a part of the art world in general.

This is something I ask everybody ~ how does making art make you feel?

A lot. Like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. ☺


Writer: Jessica Thornton Murphy, founder of Plunge

Featured Artist: Annie Duncan @annieduncan_

Photo credits: Mark Ochinero @plasticfragments

Plunge Website

Contact info:

Insta: (personal) @jessamurph

Other Platforms: TikTok, Spotify, YouTube

Link to purchase Plunge Rag Volume 3

Link to Annie’s Towels: “Swim Zone & Daisy Chain”, December 2022

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