To say that Daniel Douke is a painter is technically correct, but missing some key details. Although Douke works exclusively with oil, acrylic and canvas, his paintings look nothing like anything else you’re likely to ever find hanging on a wall.
Piled in the back of a semi, though? Maybe. Sitting in a Dumpster? Definitely.
That’s because Douke has spent the better part of his life creating true-to-scale replicas of discarded and ignored objects like cardboard boxes, concrete road barriers, and stacks of lumber through a combination of hand-painting, airbrushing and canvas-building techniques.
He calls his pieces “icons of expendability” and right now, the Nevada Museum of Art is collectively titling them Extraordinary. Open through the end of April, Douke’s exhibition features 11 paintings that look exactly like the throwaway packaging and stacks of overlooked objects that make our consumer-driven lifestyle possible.
Some of Douke’s paintings have titles that remind us of the real-world objects they represent, like “iMac,” “Relay Mailbox with Declarations,” or “Barricade with Skid Marks.” Other pieces have more mysterious names, such as “Core” (a hanging row of empty, color-coded fruit crates) and “Them” (a cord of upright color-coded lumber)—possibly references to the hidden meanings that such items convey to the few individuals familiar with their coding.
By placing these objects in a gallery space, Douke hopes the viewer will be able to “slow down and take a little closer look.” But the artist gives us more than one look; he gives us three.
The first look is the reveal. The thing you’re looking at is not the thing you think you’re looking at. By displaying a majority of his paintings in the round and exposing the backs of the canvases, Douke makes sure that the audience understands the illusion for what it is—a “concrete” road barrier that you can move with one foot or a mailbox whose only function is to display bumper stickers made entirely of raised paint and lacquer.
The second look is about relationships. While most of us pay attention to the computer instead of the packaging, the house instead of the lumber, and the fruit instead of the crates, Douke’s focus on the transitory function of these materials is so strong that we find ourselves being pulled into his line of sight momentarily—dredging up questions about our own interactions with these objects while comparing them to the thousands of hours that the artist surely must have spent bringing them into hyper-reality.
The third look is retrospective. It imagines future you, several centuries from now, examining Douke’s paintings as artifacts of a bygone era—documentation of resource use in the age of diminishing returns and unlimited demand. It’s a public service perspective in a way that is more Natural History than Art Museum. Although a piece of actual insulation won’t survive to tell the tale of how we kept our homes warm with toxic materials, Douke’s insulation painting, “Dow,” probably will.
“I never wanted to really fool people,” said Douke. “What I wanted to do—and this sounds kind of esoteric—is to take the object which has a meaning in the real world and take it out of that meaning and convert that meaning to only a work of art.”
After their stay at the NMA, Douke’s paintings will move into the Stremmel Gallery for the month of May, making the occasional trip to come back and haunt your mailbox, mailed box, or Mac box for at least several months after you see the exhibit.