Artist of the Week

Kalven Duncan

October 24, 2023

Kalven Duncan (b. 1996, Saint Louis, MO) is an artist working primarily in photography. Their practice and work focuses on compression of time and space in photographic documents, while playing with the corruption inherent in reproduction, and interrogating the implicit connotations of certainty in photographs. Duncan’s other interests include literary modernism, continental philosophy, and Greco-Roman tragedies. They received a BA in Art History in 2019 from Truman State University in 2019. Since graduating, Duncan has been employing various photographic processes and methods of reproduction, experimenting with image association and manipulation, and the deconstruction of a personal visual vocabulary. Duncan has shown throughout the Midwest in various group shows, including at Bruno David Gallery in (Clayton, MO), St. Louis Artists’ Guild, Lodger Art in (Kansas City, MO), Art Saint Louis, Interurban Arthouse (Overland Park, KS) and a solo exhibition in early 2022, titled “through this window, another side”, at the Foundry Arts Centre (St. Charles, MO). Duncan has been interviewed and published through Magazine TM, The Coastal Post, ode to queer, dead peasant, Hazel Art magazine, and other publications. Duncan lives and works in St. Louis, MO.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I am a photo-based artist living in St. Louis, Missouri. I also work full-time at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. When not working or in the studio, I gravitate toward reading on my balcony with my cat, Bunny, or trying a new quiche recipe.

What catalyzed your interest in art?
I can pinpoint a few moments that catalyzed my interest in art: trips to the St. Louis Art Museum with my father when I was growing up; my 35mm black & white film photography class in high school; and my first art history survey course in undergrad, Western Art: Renaissance to Contemporary Art.
Study (18052023), 2023. Cyanotype on watercolor paper. Image courtesy of the artist.


How do you describe your practice?
I would describe my practice as cyclical and process-forward. I would maybe compare it to a game of Telephone. My source images get pushed through multiple iterations and manifestations to become, in a way, over time, a documentation of my relationship to the image and processes of rendering. I like to think of my prints as inquisitions into the lifespan of a photograph; challenging the notion of the “snapshot moment” or singular, true, frozen moment presented in an image.

What are the main motifs in the art you make?
Emphases on texture, abstraction, corruption.
still life (IMG_358528042022), 2022. Cyanotype on watercolor paper. Image courtesy of the artist.
What and who is influencing your work right now?
I find myself inspired by literary modernism, and in particular the stream-of-consciousness style developed by James Joyce.  Active visual artists inspiring me are Uta Barth, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Christine Elfman, John Patrick Dugdale, and Wolfgang Tillmans. My all time favorites include Praxiteles, Giacometti, Warhol, and Via Celmins.

Describe your current studio or workspace.
My studio is the smaller front room in my apartment with big gorgeous windows. It is a space always in flux, I prefer collapsable, mobile furniture so I can utilize the space as a print viewing room, a reading and writing room, or a lighting studio.
Duncan’s Studio in St. Louis
What is one of the bigger challenges you are struggling with as an artist and how do you cope?
Two of the biggest challenges as an artist for me is blocking the amount of time out that I would truly like to be in the studio which is extremely hard when working full time, and volunteering at local art organizations. I also have to say finding and securing the financial resources I would like to have to invest in my practice for materials. I cope by creative problem-solving with what I have and journaling other ideas for future revisiting.

What excites you about being an artist?
Stepping away from work and just knowing it is finished has to be the most exciting thing for my practice.
figure study (IMG_985415042023), 2023. Cyanotype on watercolor paper. Image courtesy of the artist.
Any recent, upcoming, or current projects you are working on?
Yes! I am very excited to be included in a group show, To Pillar, To Platform, at The Luminary on Cherokee Street, a local arts organization and gallery that I strongly believe in. The show is [Kalaija Mallery], the current Artistic and Executive Director’s first curatorial undertaking in her role there and she has come up with this show as a way to explore the practices that influence and make a community-focused artistic space possible. To Pillar, To Platform is open until December 2nd.

What have you been reading and listening to lately?
I have been reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, Wolfgang Tillmans: A Reader, Contact Sheet 195: Justyna Badach, and Stephen Shore’s experimental memoir Modern Instances: The Craft of Photography. Currently, when I am not listening to Lana del Rey, I have been listening to Frances Faye’s Caught In the Act, Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band (1966), Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin, and Ryan Beatty’s newest album.

Detail of landscape (Lake Michigan) (DSC_027824122022), 2022. Cyanotype on watercolor paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Interview conducted and edited by Natalie Toth