Recognizing the Duende in One’s Own Work

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The longer I work on a piece the more difficult it is to know if it still contains the spirit, the zietgiest, the deep duende that is a necessary element of all quality work. Without it one has accomplished nothing. One has displayed only the facade of skill not a deep journey into the underworld; but only some romantic notion. Everyone recognizes the duende when it appears. One is cut to the heart with emotion, with longing from which out of our being comes an ‘ah, yes’. We recognize duende as we would recognize our own reflection in a mirror

I am not Spanish, where the source of duende resides. But even in my Irish roots I can recognize the same heightened emotion present in the Gallic sense of the Lament. It is recognizing that deep divide that resides in oneself where one longs for a real poetic escape from this world to a place of authentic emotion and deep meaning. Lorca states, “the arrival of duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious enthusiasm.”

The artist should seek to get beyond artifice and get at the “marrow” of form, to leave one’s place of safety where one paints only those things one knows one can do well and get to the “new”, a completely authentic unfolding of the image. One needs to put oneself on a threshold of risk where the immediate engagement with the image unfolds in unknown and unexpected ways. It is difficult to put oneself on this level because there is a prevailing uneasiness, a feeling of inadequacy. One feels out of one’s element and all appears at risk, that this image will take more ability and inventiveness than one is capable of. Lorca states,”duende loves the edge, the wound, and draws close to places where forms fuse in a yearning beyond visible expression.” But only in this position can one truly wrestle with one’s own “daimon” and be open to a revelatory correspondence that is not premeditated and therefore reveals itself in the “living” moment. In such a state the duende appears and remains, declaring authenticity, a truth revealed.

Lorca states, “… the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.” Duende wounds again and again calling the artist back to his purpose- leaving a gulf within him that calls to be filled. This chasm felt within the artist is eased through the creative process which calls forth meaningful images that heal and connect him to the world.

If duende occurs in the process of creation than a residue of it ought to remain in the final piece. Does my piece have this underlying sense of engagement with meaning and has the actualization of the image occured in an authentic way? Hirsch states in his preface to The Demon and the Angel,

“the duende (or demon) and the angel are vital spirits of creative imagination. They are anomalous figures. They come only when something enormous is at risk, when the self is imperiled and pushes against its limits, when death is possible. They embody an irrational splendor… The demon and the angel are two external figures for a power that dwells deep within us. They are the imagination’s liberating agents, who unleash their primal force into works of art.”

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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