Duncan Weller is a very complex person; chatting about his art, he exudes a nervous energy, yet is simultaneously very soft-spoken and unassuming. “I love to draw and paint all sorts of subjects,” he says when asked about the complexity that is in many of his pictures. “I love assembling a number of images together.”
Along with being a visual artist, Weller is a writer, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson who lives here in Thunder Bay. He has written and illustrated several children’s books, a book of short stories for adults, and a book of poetry. One of his children’s books, The Boy From the Sun, won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2007 for Illustration in Children’s Literature. The way his artwork and writing go together to tell his stories is deliberately planned: “I’ve actually thought quite hard about what I want to say and work hard to get ideas across. Some ideas are clearly in the text, but there can be an entirely different story created in the visuals that run in tandem with the story line.”
You can often find Weller at the Country Market, where he rents a booth and sells his books. The Country Market is where he met Bobbi, the model in the painting Weller created for the Thunder Bay Public Library. He was really inspired by her great attitude and wanted to capture her beaming face. Weller spent more time than he had planned to on the painting; it ended up taking two weeks to finish. He used acrylic to paint her pants and the purple background, while her upper torso, blouse and hair were painted in oil. Her natural hair is braided; she liked the idea of being painted with an afro.
Weller also rents a gallery on North Cumberland Street. “The gallery is fun,” he says. “It’s nice to see my work up on the walls. If I don’t have enough wall space, they’re in boxes.” The gallery takes a lot of time, so he has created a work space inside of it. That was where the painting was created – he nailed the masonite up onto a wall and started painting. At the gallery, his eventual plan is to have other people’s work shown as well as his own.
While some artists mainly worry about creating artwork that sells, that is not Weller’s primary concern. “The whole idea of being an artist is to do your best work, to challenge yourself and see what you can do,” he says. “Too many artists hold back or rely on an ideology that makes it too easy to be an artist. I see nothing wrong with blowing people away, creating a sense of awe and mystery and wonder and excitement. If it’s fun for me, it’s got to be fun for the viewer.”