Karma is proud to present Robert Duran: 1968–1970, the gallery’s first exhibition with the Estate of Robert Duran and the first showing of Duran’s work in New York City since 1977.
Born in Salinas, California in 1938, Duran found his way to San Francisco, traveled around Europe, India, Nepal and Tibet before landing in New York City in the mid 1960s, a place he called home for nearly two decades. Living and working in the vibrant, growing art scene of the time, Duran mounted numerous exhibitions—six solo outings with Bykert Gallery and inclusion in the 1966 Park Place gallery Invitational, 1969 Whitney Museum Annual Exhibition and the wellspring 1973 Whitney Biennial, among others. Yet Duran’s exhibition activity in New York, like the gallery in which he showed, practically ceased within a generation. By the early 1980’s, Duran moved on to “everyday, real America”, had a day job and raised a family, all the while continuing to paint spellbinding canvases and watercolors in a more private lifestyle until his death in 2005.
Robert Duran: 1968–1970 presents a selection of Duran’s earliest paintings, which were born from a time when the then young artist concurrently experimented in minimalist sculpture. Closely examining Duran’s practice within these years, one can recognize the forms and structures of his sculptures loosely illustrating the paintings surfaces, as if tracing the evolution from his sculptural pursuits to the lyrical style of painting that he became known for. The late 60s paintings possess grid-like surfaces of flat irregular shapes in vivid color, moving around the canvas like kaleidoscopic visions, while referencing mapping or charting possibilities. Critics likened Duran’s work to textiles or mystical diagrams familiar to art of the Far East. This awareness is clear in looking at Duran’s notes on ritual and spiritual Enlightenment, or his extensive world travels as a young man, or perhaps moreover, an unspoken understanding of the complex cultures from which he came.
By 1970, Liquitex-acrylic employed in cloudy, jigsaw puzzle-like shapes meet and bleed into one another, creating a labyrinth of (not quite geometric, not quite organic) ambiguous forms and channels that relate simply by their co-existence. Shown together in this exhibition, these canvases today read as permutations anchoring Duran’s own expressive autonomy. Like a dance with entropy, Duran’s use of line, color and arrangement of space harness dynamically rich albeit allusive energies, tracing the artist’s efforts to answer questions about formal possibility by asking new ones. As Carter Radcliff noted, Duran’s work was uniquely its own, “extraordinary because it is not in the least logical, and yet it finds a coherence with the authority of logic”, a sentiment that almost 50 years later reads as freshly as if painted yesterday, and surely one that warrants a re-examination of its relationship to the ushering in of the postmodern era.