Art News

Joellyn Duesberry, Renowned Landscape Painter, Passes Away

Landscape painter Joellyn Duesberry quickly became a fixture of the Colorado art scene after she first came west from New York in 1986. Now the artist, who lived in Greenwood Village, has died after a long struggle with cancer.

Born in 1944 in Richmond, Virginia, Duesberry became interested in art as a small child. She graduated from Smith College in 1964, and in 1966 entered the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, where she ultimately earned her MFA. During that time she also enrolled in Richard Diebenkorn’s master class at the Santa Fe Institute, and she often cited him as being among her most significant mentors. She periodically attended classes and workshops at the National Academy of Design and the Arts Students League, both in New York, and at Colorado’s Anderson Ranch in Snowmass just a few years ago. For many years she maintained studios in both New York and Colorado.

Diebenkorn’s influence on her work was more conceptual than stylistic, and Duesberry’s pieces look nothing like his, but his effect was profound. Although Duesberry was a plein air painter, interested in conveying what she actually saw in nature, her painterly style was filled with abstract moves doubtless inspired by Diebenkorn’s example, and she was clearly more interested in expressing the scenery than in literally illustrating it, as a conventional realist would. The resulting hybrid of realism and abstraction in her work allowed her to gain a respected position not only in the traditional painting scene, but in the contemporary one as well. She was thus a rare example of an artist who could function in either realm and do so using the same exact pieces.

Best known for her Western landscapes set in Colorado and New Mexico, she also created works based on scenes she saw throughout the country and in Europe, notably in Italy and France. Mostly known as a painter, Duesberry also created many prints; some of them were pulled at Denver’s Open Press, with which she had a long relationship.
She also painted cityscapes, many of them depicting picturesque settings in Denver, such as Cheesman Park and City Park, but she also produced a body of work based on the World Trade Center in New York, since her studio there had a view of the Twin Towers. After their destruction on 9/11, Duesberry painted vistas of the ravaged Ground Zero.

Since she first showed her work in the 1970s, Duesberry was widely exhibited nationally; her vitae lists hundreds of exhibits she participated in during the intervening years, including over fifty solos, four of which were mounted in museums. She was also the recipient of numerous awards, including an NEA grant that allowed her to study with Diebenkorn. She was the subject of several monographs, notably the exhibition catalogue A Covenant of Seasons, from 1998. Her work was included in the book and exhibit Colorado Landscapes: Mountain and Plains in 2007, and in 2011’s Elevated Perspective, the catalogue that accompanied her fifty-year retrospective at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

In the spring of 2015, bad health forced Duesberry to give up her art practice, and she actually started to give away her paints. But her work continued to be shown. Here in Denver, her paintings were included in the 2016 Coors Western Art Exhibit at the National Western Stock Show, and her prints were shown at Goodwin Fine Art this past spring, as part of the Month of Printmaking. A Duesberry painting is also part of the current exhibit Modernist Intersections, on view through October at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

Robischon Gallery mounted a survey of her work in 2004; you can read my review of that Duesberry show here.

Plans for a memorial service have not yet been announced.
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia