Columbus, Ohio USA

The Art Spirit within Douglas Fordyce
A revelation of himself
June 2002

By Kaizaad Kotwal

See Also Studio 16 Moving On Up

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Doug Fordyce © Photo/J. Moos

Douglas Fordyce, a Columbus-based visual artist, has his hands full these days as a professional artist, a graphic designer, a teacher, and a businessman.

Born in 1965 in Elyria, Ohio, Fordyce was raised in Pine Grove, West Virginia, his parents' hometown. His folks returned there soon after his birth. Fordyce graduated from Valley High School in June of 1983 and moved to Columbus in October of that same year. Except for a brief stint in Newport, Rhode Island, he has spent the past 18 plus years in Columbus.

I ask him as to when and why he left Columbus on that brief stint to Rhode Island: "That was the year I turned 25," he says, "and I needed to get away from my life for a while, to get some perspective and make some decisions. I passed my time sitting on the beach with my journal, sketchbook, and Walkman. I made a lot of discoveries about myself during that six months and came back to Columbus with the drive I needed to get on with making art."

Like many emerging artists in the city, and Ohio for that matter, he attended the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) – for three-and-a-half year, majoring in illustration. Fordyce was able to study there because he received a generous two-year scholarship; however, at the end of those two years, he had to figure out a way to pay for school without financial assistance. "I managed to get through another year and a half by taking student loans and working full-time at night," he explains, "but, unfortunately, the grueling schedule took its toll on my work there, and with only a year left in my program, I decided to drop out and go back when I could devote more time to my studies."

During his sabbatical from formal education, Fordyce traveled. "I spent time in California, New England, including New York City and Boston," he says. Talking about these American sojourns, he adds, "After coming back from Rhode Island, one of the things I vowed to do was to travel more. My first major trip was to San Francisco. A friend of mine was studying at Berkeley at the time, so I stayed almost a month with her. I did a lot of walking and took a lot of photos."

Fordyce didn't travel to New York City until around 1993. "I was amazed by the energy there," he says. "After coming back from New York, I always feel as if I can do anything." One of the finest memories from New York was a surprise trip to the Met provided by his traveling companion to see La Bohème. "The whole thing was amazing, the fountain, the music, the paintings, the pure culture of it all inspired me," he says. Pausing to catch his breath he adds, "As most artists aspire, I truly hope to exhibit my work there someday."

His worst memory would be the first day of his first trip to New York City when he stepped out on the street with a cup of coffee in his hand, during the morning rush hour, and was shocked by the number of people walking on the street. "I spilled my coffee on myself, had to duck into McDonald's to catch my breath and try again!" he laughs.

Series IX, Study #4.
Mixed media on board 24" x 18", 2001.

Having caught the traveling bug, Fordyce spent a summer in Europe, mostly France, Italy, Belgium with a quick trip to Switzerland. While in Europe, like any good, true-blooded art lover, he admits he "tried to absorb as much art and culture" as he could. "I visited museums and galleries everywhere I went."

"Europe was incredible," he says. "I think every artist should try to visit it. I learned so much just from seeing the places I had studied, seeing the art I had only seen in books. I loved the Louvre, and the Musee D'Orsay in Paris was also incredible. But I think one of my favorite places in Paris was a park called Place des Vosges." Fordyce says he was drawn there because "again it was one of those peaceful places." He fell in love with all of Italy, especially Venice with all of the street artists. "I wanted so badly to sit and do watercolors and watch the people moving around the sites," he says. Another highlight from the European trip was his visit to Belgium. "We stayed with a friend of a friend in Brussels who is a college professor at the university there.

It turned out that his house was a historic place, complete with a metal plaque by the door." He learned that the house was designated historical because a renowned artist had lived there. When Fordyce visited the Art Museum in downtown Brussels, there was a whole section dedicated to this artist, Rik Wouters." Overall, his worst memory from Europe involved getting food poisoning and spending his first visit to the Louvre "seeing it's many bathrooms!"

Fordyce later returned to school in order to complete his degree, and in 1997 graduated from The Ohio State University with a BFA in Painting and Drawing. I ask him why he chose OSU. "When I finally decided to finish my degree, I applied to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and Parsons in New York City," he explains. "I was accepted at both as a junior. I did my visits, filled out all of my paperwork, and then the plans changed. I was in a pretty serious relationship at the time, and we decided to try rehabbing a house together. So, we bought a house in Clintonville, and I began attending OSU that fall."

Coming from the Columbus College of Art and Design with a background in illustration, OSU's art department made him nervous. "Abstract art was definitely the more favored means of expression during my time there," he explains. After spending two quarters studying at OSU, he felt certain he had made a mistake.

"Fortunately, I made some good friendships that quarter," he says. "One with a guy who had attended both CCAD and Parsons and was back in Columbus again, pretty much where I was academically and artistically. We took most of our classes together and encouraged each other. His influence and support helped me to open myself up to abstract art as a means of expression, and I ended up loving what I was doing."

Series XII, Study #5.
Mixed media on paper 20" x 18", 2001.

Fordyce's parents still live in Pine Grove where his father has been working at an aluminum plant for over 35 years. His mother works as a server in a diner. Fordyce's only sibling, a brother younger by seven years, lives in Columbus with his family.

When I ask Fordyce how long he has been painting and what got him to begin in the first place, he answers that he has been drawing for as long as he can remember. "My parents were always very supportive of my art from a very early age. My mother enrolled me in an adult college outreach oil painting class when I was in the fourth grade. She would drive me there each week and then sit off to the side reading a book until I was finished." The Fordyce matriarch's commitment to her son's artistic leanings continued beyond childhood. "As I grew older," Fordyce adds, "my mother became my best art critic. She has a very good eye and could point out problem areas in my work."

His father has also been a source of encouragement. "My father has been a great carpenter for years and is a very precise and meticulous individual," Fordyce explains. As a result of this character trait, the senior Fordyce has "kept all my watercolors and drawings matted for me." Fordyce the son is effusive and emphatic in the role his parents have played and continue to play in his development as an artist. "They are a constant source of support."

For Fordyce, the experience of growing up in the hills of Pine Grove was artistically nurturing. Very often he would pack up his watercolors and go hiking outdoors, painting old abandoned houses or plants that he found in the woods and forests surrounding his home. He recalls that there were always peaceful places to retreat to and to be alone with his art.

I am interested in this common thread that emerges from our conversation about Fordyce's desire to retreat into nature, into calm. He explains: "My work is often about calm, often about feeling that peace. But because I don't produce work that directly represents that, I must get my viewer to feel that feeling based on my colors, my shapes, my brushstrokes. In order for this to occur, I need to feel these things when I paint."

One of his favorite quotes of all time is what Robert Henri said in The Art Spirit when he wrote that "The brush stroke at the moment of contact carries inevitably the exact state of the artist at that moment into the work, and there it is, to be seen and read by those who can read such signs, and to be read later by the artist himself, with perhaps some surprise, as a revelation of himself."

Series XI, Study #3.

While Fordyce's art career has led him to work mostly with painting, he still enjoys producing illustrations. He also does watercolors fairly often, mostly abstract ones, but occasionally he will do a landscape to stay in practice. He also enjoys figure drawing. "This past year," he informs me, "I drew from a live model for three hours every week – I believe it helps to draw from life no matter what your final work is about. Figure drawing helps to keep motivated to produce." Fordyce seems to draw his inspiration from all things living and organic and it is evident in his art.

Fordyce's most recent oeuvre is a result of abstracting the figurative world. For many years, he had been drawing and painting the figure representationally but began to extend those boundaries. "The figure embodies life and feeling. In the past few years, I have begun to abstract my work, pulling the figure along with me."

Fordyce's paintings have a certain rhythm embedded in the strokes, in the compositions. He explains this technique with the following: "I created a tool that transformed my years of representational expression into a fluid abstraction free from the confines of realism. The tool is a four-foot piece of wood with holes drilled at random locations. Beside each hole is a nail partially driven into the surface. Pencils and brushes can be stuck into the holes and secured by clipping them to the corresponding nails. I use the tool to create drawings.

"My only conscious thought is to create shapes of a figurative nature. I use pencils and brushes of varying thickness, hardness, and sometimes color. The tool moves across the drawing surface creating repeated lines, shapes and uncontrolled random marks." Fordyce's paintings are very multi-layered. He works on developing "depth and figure-ground relationships based on 'found' figures and others based purely on groupings of shapes."

He explains that he is often drawn toward a cool palette. One finds blues and greens used in almost every painting. The cool of blues and greens is complimented and put into tension by reds, oranges, and siennas "to achieve a sense of warmth that alternately reflects onto and radiates from within the figure." Fordyce also notes the occurrence of unexpected landscapes in recent paintings: "I have also found that many of my recent pieces place the figures against dramatic backdrops of sky and clouds. The unintentional landscapes establish a correspondence between man and nature that reflects the tension and harmony of existence."

Series X Study #12, Study for Fall.
Mixed media on board 24" x 18", 2001.

Fordyce has a proclivity for worn objects, which also manifests itself in his work. He explains that by layering color, often beginning with a dark solid background and laying a lighter wash of color on top, allowing the dark to come through in areas, he is able to set a ground that feels aged. Once the ground is established, corrosion is suggested by removing sections of the 'finished' surface.

"The work is given a patina that imbues a sense of discovery," he says. "Abstraction and modernism are blended with an oxidation realized by paint instead of air. I hope in the larger blue oils, the viewer recognizes an effect similar to the oxidation of bronze in ancient Chinese vessels and mirrors."

Addressing the emotional qualities of his paintings, Fordyce says that sometimes he strives to convey a feeling of sadness or melancholy and other times feelings of joy and celebration. Thematically, he also attempts to portray universally recognized themes. For example, the change of seasons and the moods or emotions associated with them. "Another example," he adds, "would be the coming of rain, the darkness of the storm approaching combined with the relief of knowing that the rain will wash away the grayness and leave a fresh beginning."

In summing up, he notes that ultimately he strives to communicate a sense of serenity with his work. "I hope for viewers to leave my work with a sense of calm, a feeling of stopping for a one moment to see the beauty of life. We all struggle with life in one way or another, but without the struggle, there would be no comparison, no way to realize how wonderful the calm can be."

Fordyce also loves to teach. For the past three years, he has taught classes in drawing, painting, and watercolor out of his studio, small classes of no more than five or six people. This summer he will be instructing basic watercolor to eager students who will be pleased to know that his class meets in different parks around the city on Sunday afternoons. "That way," he says, "we get to paint and enjoy the many beautiful spots around our city."

Recently Fordyce has involved himself in freelance work with Dragonfly Design (not to be confused with the local restaurant). "With Dragonfly, I have been able to help design and paint a 50-foot mural about the history of Columbus to soon be installed in the Bicentennial Building downtown" he says. "I'm also learning more about set design and construction." Studio16, a graphic design company he just formed, has been hard at work creating and promoting the identity of Betty's Restaurant in the Short North.

I ask Fordyce what makes painting special for him, as compared to the other artistic mediums. "I can get lost in my painting. Sitting down in front of a canvas that I've been working on, thinking about the subject matter, smelling the turpentine, feeling the smoothness of the paint on my brush, the texture of the layers already on the canvas, I can lose myself totally," he says. Extolling the therapeutic virtues of art, he adds, "the stresses of my life and the world around me can just disappear while I am engrossed in my painting. The outcome of the painting is no longer important, just the act of painting."

A solo exhibit of Doug Fordyce's work will be held September 2002 at the Michael Orr Gallery, 1331 King Ave. in Grandview, Ohio. Call 614-481-0250.

email Doug Fordyce at

©2002 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.