A journal of workers working

Joel Dugan


Getting Your Hands Dirty

My Dad was a mechanic and I grew up in a garage, working on cars, fixing things, getting dirty under a car, or working on the house; always doing something interesting. By growing up like that I took away the knowledge about being able to construct something or being able to use my hands. I really like constructing things and knowing how things work, being able to pick up a screw gun, or use a table saw, or whatever and make my own world. That's what I do, I create my own narrative.

Active Life

I grew up skateboarding and I have always been pretty active and a work ethic was ingrained from a very young age. I never was one to sit around and lounge, veg out, and watch TV. I like to trip out on my own and make my own stuff. My Dad restored old cars and my Mom was into making crafts and also a painter. Because I have been exposed to older stuff, I have an appreciation of it, where some people may not, because it's old. I appreciate things that are old and beginning to decay and have a nice natural patina, whether a lighthouse that is rusting or an old boat left to rot. Problem Solving

It doesn't matter where I am, I am always anxious to either paint something, or make something, or draw something, whatever it is. It's problem solving: The problem is you want to make something and you’ve only four things to use, and so you make what you can out of those objects—whether it's paper, wood, oil paint on canvas or on a board. You figure out how to make it work.

Last summer we did a share at Fire Island, the barrier island off of Long Island. My buddy and I always went on walks and looked for sweet driftwood and really cool things that we could make birdhouses out of. If there was one piece that looked like a roof with louvers, then I would know exactly where that piece would go and from that I would build the sides and the object around that one piece. By the end of the summer I had around 18 houses and I turned those into an installation for a show in Philadelphia. I love working three dimensionally, cutting pieces and making things fit. Driftwood was just what I had to work with at the time.

Launching Pad

My work takes going out and going on trips. I get out and take photos and do research and come back with references. I take a lot of photographs of characters and landscapes and do field sketches. I like going to museums regularly. The Met is one of my most favorite places to go and visit. Currently my muse is related to nature and coastal life, to people who work at sea. My wife and I go to Nova Scotia fairly frequently. That has given me a lot of ammunition to make stuff. It hit me the first trip I took there: the culture and the color, and the minimalism and the simplicity of that life. I wanted to find something different that many people did not know about and that I could take and run with and then show my interpretation of it. I take a place and use that as a launching pad. I want it to be pretty vague and to evoke maybe a memory that someone may have had. In dreams you lose a sense of detail, which is a lot of what my paintings are about.

I've met a lot of local fishermen. Many of these guys, they don't know what else to do. This is what they do. They are just as interested in me as I am in them. They are like "That's so weird. Why did you come here?" Living in an urban environment you see a loss of craft. People don't really care about craftsmanship, but I am inspired by a guy who makes his living through a craft. I kind of wish I had more of that in my life.

Color Scheme

I was in Ireland this past summer. We took a long hike that overlooked the ocean, in County Kerry. I did a painting while up on hogs head and I tried to paint it as true to what the color scheme was in front of me as possible and it got me really excited to paint in different colors. Ireland is full of greens and blues and grays because it is very rainy and cloudy. That's what really changed my color palette, and that is where I am heading at this moment. I had been working with a lot sepias for almost five years or more and now I am more interested in going with the blues and grays to introduce a new mood to the paintings.

Expanding Concept

It's really cool to look back from now to what I was doing five years ago and to think about what a short amount of time it has been and all the work that was created and how it's all woven together and what that story tells, and what it's going to be like in another 20 years. It's going to be even more interesting, and it's going to be even more deep and rooted, and more of a concept will have been developed. I have a lot to learn and a lot to make before I really figure it out, and who knows, maybe I will never figure it out. A part of me hopes I don't actually figure it out, because that keeps me going. I feel like I want to go bigger and bigger and maybe to just continue to add on to this story. I would like to take a boat building class so that I could build a life-size boat and become one of the craftsman who I have been celebrating.

Photography by Joel Dugan. Interview by Alex Frankel.










In the Canadian Maritimes, go to Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Brier Island, and the Maritime Museum in Yarmouth.

The amazing train hopping photography of Mike Brodie

Jared Buckhiester is an artist. His paintings explore reality in both disturbing and intimate ways.

Jud Burgeron is a sculptor. His work reveals his inner thoughts with permanence.

Kim Cogan is a surfer and a painter. His cityscapes have solid painterly quality.

Joel's show at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco featured a hand built Fish Hut

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