Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seattle Artist Duff Hendrickson

I began hearing intriguing tales about artist Duff Hendrickson months before I actually met him. The first fact his friends gave me: “Duff knows everyone. He swam naked with Crosby, Stills, and Nash.” (When I finally met Duff, he corrected his friends' account. “I didn't swim with them. I sailed with them in ’73 on Crosby's antique schooner off the south shore of Maui, out of Lahaina.”)

When I heard these wild Duff tales, I tried to guess what he would look like. I imagined a grizzled Tom Waits doppelganger with a wooly chest and a gigantic mustache. His Hawaiian shirt would be unbuttoned, his curly hair would be a mess. He'd have a cigarette in one hand and a 40 of beer in the other. He would be riding hands free across Lake Washington on a jet ski, howling maniacally like Hunter S. Thompson. His eyes would glitter as he thought up endless pranks and schemes.

The real Duff turned out to be nothing like this. The real Duff doesn't have a mustache. He's not wooly, and his hair isn't wild. If you're looking for the most boisterous man in the room, you're going to pass right over him. He's not the type who would draw attention to himself in a crowd of strangers. His voice is quiet, and he's somewhat guarded at first. But if you buy him a beer and take the time to sit on his porch and talk with him about his tomato plants, he'll start to open up a bit. Little by little, he'll allow you glimpses into his past life. You'll have to coax his most dazzling tales out of him, though. Despite the fact that he's met a bazillion famous musicians and artists throughout his life, he is quite modest. He’ll be casually talking about living in Hawaii in the 70’s, and suddenly it will come to light that he filmed Jimi Hendrix playing in Maui. Hendrix’s record company wouldn’t let him record sound, but allowed him to film. Here’s the video:

Duff also wrote letters back and forth with a lot of famous musicians, such as Cat Stevens and John Lennon. Both Stevens and Lennon drew inspiration for song lyrics from letters Duff wrote them. Here’s a Lennon song example:

My absolute favorite story from Duff’s life is the tale of Kenny Loggins and the Pegasus! Duff first met Kenny Loggins in 1972. The following year, Duff stayed in Loggins's Hollywood home while Loggins was on tour. In 1976, Duff returned to Hollywood and rented a small studio on Sunset, in the old Columbia Pictures lot. At the time, this part of Hollywood had been mothballed, and by 1973, musicians were using the lot for rehearsals. The Ramones had a practice space next door to Duff’s studio. Once he had settled in, Duff decided to get in touch with Loggins. Loggins told Duff that he had just embarked on his solo career and was anxious about an upcoming tour. He was insecure about having to entertain an audience all by himself. Duff suggested that he and Loggins make some sort of film that could be played behind Loggins during performances, so the audience would have something else to focus on during part of the show. They came up with a plan for three film segments to be played throughout the shows. The segments would also be edited into a promotional video to send to Europe. It would all have to get done fast. Loggins wanted the film ready in time for the upcoming Columbia Records Convention. So they started coming up with ideas. Loggins told Duff that he had a fantasy of riding a white Pegasus. He wanted the film to feature him wearing his antique WWII bomber jacket as he sat nobly astride the creature. Duff thought the idea was ridiculous, but he agreed to make it happen if it was what Kenny wanted.

There was just one problem. Kenny also wanted his picture with the Pegasus on the album cover, but the Steve Miller Band was already releasing an album whose cover featured a white Pegasus. There was no way that Kenny Loggins could also have a white Pegasus on his. “We could use a brown horse,” Loggins suggested. Duff told him, “Kenny, I’m not going to put a brown winged horse in the sky. It’s going to look like shit.” Loggins mulled this over. “Well, how about an appaloosa?” Duff explained as patiently as he could that, one, only a white horse would meld well with the multiple exposures of clouds in the background, and two, a Pegasus HAS to be white. It’s just not the same if it’s some other color.

Eventually, it was decided that they would go ahead with a white Pegasus, despite the Steve Miller album cover. So Duff started getting things together. He hired a movie ranch outside of L.A. and found a professional wrangler with two white trick horses. (There have to be two horses, Duff explained to me. One horse alone will get bored and irritable. You have to be able to alternate between them.) These horses were what Duff calls “soft-broken”, meaning not overly tame. Trick horses need to have some spirit left. They won’t look wild and free if they go plodding around submissively.

The day before the film shoot, Loggins came over to Duff’s studio. He was nervous about the shoot. Duff suggested they drive out to the ranch and get a feel for what they would be doing the next day. “Say, Kenny, can you ride?” Duff asked. “Well, it’s been a long time, but uh, yeah, sure, I can ride,” Kenny stammered. “Well, you’re going to be riding bareback on the horse, so maybe you’d better get some practice today,” Duff advised. The rancher put Loggins bareback on a docile mare. Loggins had only made it one and a half times around the corral when he fell off. Yikes.

But Loggins, brave soul that he was, went ahead as planned with the following day’s shoot. There was a lot to be done that day, and they had limited time and budgeting to do it. The fancy Hollywood album art photographer got to go first. He had Loggins ride toward him over and over again on one of the white horses, trying to get the perfect shot. Duff began to get impatient. Time was ticking away, and Duff still needed to film Loggins riding around the ranch on the horse. Moreover, the horse was starting to get a wild, barn sour look in its eyes. It was about then that the wrangler came up to Duff and told him the horse had about had it, and that Loggins was going to get tossed through the air at any second. So Duff told the photographer it was time to stop. The photographer got pissed, but since Duff didn’t want to scare Loggins by explaining the reason for needing to stop, Duff couldn’t defuse the situation. After a few minutes of bickering, he persuaded the disgruntled photographer to take a short break. During this interlude, Duff sent his grumbling lighting assistant out to pick up any large rocks that might be lying around the area he would be filming Loggins in. God forbid Kenny should get thrown and bust his head open on a big rock.

During the break, Loggins confided to Duff that he was feeling intimidated. When the break was over, Duff just had him ride around for a few minutes to do a few live action shots. Then Duff went over and filmed the second horse rearing up into the sky for the Pegasus liftoff scene. He’d find a way to make it work without showing Loggins on the horse’s back. Besides, for most of the flight scenes, a model horse would be used. They had hired the guy who made the Pillsbury Doughboy to make the model. Given the limited budget and time crunch, Duff suggested slaughtering a pigeon and attaching its wings to the model horse, but the idea didn’t go over well, so more money had to be shelled out for the sculptor to carve wings out of foam.

In the days after the shoot, Duff worked like mad to get the footage edited and ready. He was doing fine on his own, but Loggins—who was increasingly influenced by advice from the Hollywood people around him—hired a woman to “help” Duff. She was the woman who would go on to write for the Knight Rider TV show in the 80’s, and she and Duff butted heads from the start. She ended up reporting to Loggins that Duff wasn’t doing things right. Loggins brought some Hollywood people to the studio and demanded that Duff show them what he had so far. This was impossible for Duff to do, since he was still working with unfinished layers that would later be combined into a composite film. Duff tried to explain the concept of a composite map to the Hollywood bigwigs, but they just got huffy and walked out. Loggins soon informed Duff that he was going to hire more people to “help”. Duff was wary. People from Columbia started showing up at Duff’s studio to pressure him into letting them take over the entire project. Duff wasn’t about to let that happen.

In the end, Loggins decided to kill the project. He demanded that Duff hand over the film so he’d have “something to show the accountants”. Duff refused. Not long after, most of the film disappeared from Duff’s studio. All that remained were a few seconds of discarded, unusable out-takes from the film, among which were the below images.

Loggins and Duff had a falling out after that. It’s been ages since they’ve spoken. It’s just as well, because Duff got tired of the Hollywood scene long ago. He regrets the lost business opportunities, but is glad that he didn’t sell out artistically. He doesn’t like to see the spirit of art commercialized. The change in Loggins seems to epitomize what Duff means. “When I knew Kenny in ’73, he was more like a hippie,” he told me. “But by ’76 he developed a Hollywood attitude. I was still wearing yellow bell bottoms to meetings, but Kenny was showing up in thousand dollar business suits.”

These days, Duff lives a quiet life south of Seattle, in a cozy house on the water. His housemate is a big fluffy white cat. (Yes, the cat pays rent.) Nearly every wall in the house is decorated with Duff's paintings, or with posters he designed. Within seconds of walking in, I was enchanted by the swirling motion and hues of green in his work. Here is a prime example:

Duff's paintings often combine humans and objects in unexpected, surreal ways. Here is another of my favorites:

One of my favorite aspects of Duff's style is how he plays with the proportions of the human body:

Here are two of Duff's other paintings:

Duff's other favorite medium is digital video. Many of h pieces feature eerily beautiful animated human faces lip syncing old folk songs or opera pieces. Here is one of my favorites:

To see more of Duff's videos, visit here.

I thought it would be nice to learn more about how Duff got his start in surreal art, so I emailed him some interview questions. Here are my questions and his responses:

How did you first get interested in art?

In Junior-High school I was kicked out of audio-visual because I made a zap-pop-sizzle booby trap on a 16mm projector that happened when a person plugged it in. I guess I was toying with "special effects" for cinema at an early age.

Good thing there was no homeland security in 1964.

The only elective class I could take in it's place was Art. In art class one day the teacher found that somebody had stuck pins in a kid's drawing on display. Not me. He gave us a very convincing lecture on why one should never destroy someone else' art. Then he gave us an assignment to make clay sculptures to be displayed in glass cases in the hall. He said we were to make something that would surprise the school.

So I made a small bust of a nude woman.

As I was making it the boys around me were teasing me suggesting about how to accent the detail.

Mr Salmon came behind me, grabbed my clay bust, and crushed it and walked away. I stood up and addressed the teacher.

"Mr. Salmon, I have a question."

"Yes, what is it?"

"Do you remember the lecture you gave us a few days ago about destroying other people's art?"


"Does that go for you too?"

He turned red and rushed out the room.

He returned 15 minutes later. Calmly told me to pull up a chair to his desk. He had something to tell me. "Duff, from now on you can do anything you want in this class regarding art projects, you can even do nothing and you will get an 'A'. As a matter of fact you'll get a final grade as 'A".

After that I enjoyed art, art meant freedom to me.

What made you move toward surrealist art and digital video?

In the early 70s I wanted to do animation but had no idea how to get into it. I was a projectionist in college which got me thinking about filmmaking. I made a psychedelic experimental film in 1970, influence by the DMT my chemistry major roommate was making.

In the 80s I was painting abstract and modern art. I experimented with time lapse painting after seeing a movie called The Mystery of Picasso where he painted for the camera from behind glass.

So my video-painting art was at the beginning not surreal. It was abstract, like Picasso, or Chagall.

It wasn't until I went to Vancouver Film School in 1996 to study high-end 3D animation that I got into surreal. The 3D tools seemed to favor the surreal. Now I seem to be drifting back to the abstract, which has no professional value.

Who were some of the artists that most inspired you?

Hundertwasser, Klee, Kandinski, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollack, Alexander Cadler.

If you would like to contact Duff about his work, or find out when his next show is, send him an email at