A Q&A with sculptor William M. Duffy

Sculptor William M. Duffy (wmduffy.com) recently received the Fischer Award for Visual Artists. Expect big things from him as a result.

LEO: What type of artist are you?
William M. Duffy: I’m a stone carver primarily, but I also create wood and metal sculptures. My works are mainly figurative and abstract. I don’t normally do realistic carvings, but I’m very capable of doing them. And I might say, I’m quite good at it. I just prefer creating figurative art. I like to leave my viewer some imagination space. I was a painting major in college, but I haven’t picked up a brush in years. I love working with pen and ink, Prismacolors and silk screening. Some say my best works are my pen and ink drawings. 

Please explain your artistic process.
I carve smaller stones with hand tools: a hammer, chisel and rasps, because they allow me more control over the stone. The rapid hammering of a power chisel can suddenly take away more stone than I intended. Once the form is like I want it, I move to the sanding stage, using different grades of sandpaper, starting with coarse and moving to fine. When I work with larger stones, I begin with a pneumatic chisel and then move to the hand tools I just mentioned once my envisioned form has been shaped. I carve the softest stones (soapstone, alabaster and talc) as well as the much harder stones (marble, limestone, basalt and granite). I also hand carve mahogany, oak and cedar wood. Music puts me in the mood to carve. When I start a conceptual drawing, I think about the composition in terms of rhythm. I like listening to all forms of music, be it R&B, jazz, classical, whatever. The syncopated sounds of music help me find repetition and rhythm in my own work. There can be a melodic run on a certain piece of music that flows exactly with the rhythm of my chiseling the stone. The music beats and my carving beats become one. Tap, Tap, Tap, Pop, Pop, Pop, Tap, Pop, Tap, Pop … and before I know it, I have a roughly hewn piece of sculpture.  

‘Listen Ear’ by William M. Duffy. Stone.

You recently received the Fischer Award for Visual Artists. What impact does that have on your career?
It has a very significant impact because it will rejuvenate my career by enabling me to create a large public sculpture from one of my existing small sculptures. And hopefully be the first of many more. It can take me more than 100 hours to complete one small marble sculpture. This award will support me in the reproduction of one of my small works into a unique 6-foot size enlargement and also high-quality limited editions through 3-D printing. This will enable me to achieve two objectives simultaneously: I’ll be able to increase accessibility to my artworks, and I’ll be able to sell more of my artworks to ensure that I’m able to focus on my work and be more productive. I have quite a few works which are suitable for enlargement and placement in places where they would be inspirational to people of all ages. Because I will now be able to make my works available to communities across the nation, my opportunities will increase a hundredfold. 

Is there a local artist you think is doing great work that hasn’t been noticed yet?
Yes, as a matter of fact there is. I recently reconnected with an artist that started his art career at the same time as mine. His name is George Embers. We were in the artist collective group that Ed Hamilton, G.C. Coxe and I formed back in 1978 called Montage. I was hunting for the artists from this group to participate in a group exhibit, featuring the members and their past and present works. When I found George Embers, who to my surprise had lived only a few blocks away from me all these years, I discovered that he had quietly made a name for himself in the commercial art field. His work is well known by some of the biggest-named businesses in Louisville: KFC (now YUM! Brands), Ford Motor Co., General Electric, etc. His work is incredible and I’m hoping he can get some recognition from the general public at some point. He plans to be in the “Montage Lives! Our Artistic Past Informs the Future” group exhibit which opens on Feb.16 at 1619 Flux: Art + Activism gallery on Main Street (1619flux.org). Excuse the shameless plug. 

What’s on your art bucket list?
To get back into silk screening and drawing. Especially drawing, which is my first love. I’ve been away from those two mediums for so long, I miss them. I also want to explore digital art more. I’ve done a few pieces using computer software but not as many as I would like. Also, since I’ve spent the major part of my life stone carving, I would like to take a trip to Italy to see the stone carvings of the masters and to Zimbabwe to see the masterful carvings and techniques of the contemporaries. 

About the Author

A Q&A with sculptor William M. Duffy

Jo Anne Triplett is the contributing visual arts editor at LEO Weekly. She’s a past member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Public Art, was the content advisor on the Glassworks Building video, and has written for Louisville Magazine, Kentucky Homes and Gardens and the national publication Glass Craftsman. Jo Anne came to Louisville from Washington, D.C. where she worked as a researcher and writer for the Smithsonian American Art Museum.



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