Film and theatre have the ability to merge all artistic mediums in the most beautiful of ways: music, acting, set design, costuming, makeup. Though the majestic production of “The Fantasticks” closed last weekend at Thalian Hall’s Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre (see Gwenyfar Rohler’s review of the show here), its dreamy romanticism lingers on the walls of the cube theatre still. Oil paintings by Zak Duff, directly inspired from director Shane Fernando’s show, are on exhibit in “Tricks and Revelations.” It’s the first time Duff has taken on work of this caliber: interpreting theatre.
“I’ve been a fan of live theatre for a long time,” he tells. “I grew up outside of Washington, D.C., before moving to North Carolina, and my family would take trips into the city to see plays when we could. ‘The Fantasticks’ is a story of love and deception, with elements of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and a little ‘The Elixir of Love.’”
Thalian’s financial coordinator (and local actress), Susan Auten, approached Duff to make the pairing of art and theatre come to life a few months ago. A supporter of Duff’s representational expressionistic style, Auten asked the artist if he wanted exposure to a different audience than perhaps his well-known portraits were used to receiving. “I’ve known Susan for years,” Duff says. “She’s been a supporter of my work since I started creating and showing in Wilmington.”
Duff has immersed himself in drawing and painting, including illustration, murals, watercolors, and acrylics, as seen in his well-known celebrity portraits—like Willie Nelson, Rosario Dawson and Prince. He always referenced fiction and mythology, songs and films in his artwork; however, interpreting “The Fantasticks” really sparked a new interest.
“It’s a complex and layered narrative,” Duff explains. “The themes of both the artwork and the play are fantasy, tension and decay. They describe the tension between lovers, friends and enemies, and the decay of the world and everything in it, both physical and abstract. And they examine how fantasy both helps and harms us in life.”
One of his pieces, “Contemplating Escape,” solely was taken from part of the narrative in the second act. Duff focused on escapism and fantasy as a parallel to Luisa’s desires to run away with the bandit, El Gallo, to leave behind her home and troubles. “It’s something everyone can relate to,” Duff describes, “even if it’s as small as daydreaming in a traffic jam; sometimes you just want a way out.”
“Contemplating Escape” shows Luisa standing in a doorway, yet hesitating to exit. Instead she’s lost in the idea and revels in it. “I was trying to capture how fantasy gives us a fleeting moment of shuddering-bliss before we snap back to the present,” the artist describes. “Even when the present moment is good, the fantasy is always better.”
He snapped photos from around the Cape Fear region as a starting point for the series. When he came across a dilapidated doorway off US 421, he knew it would be a pinpoint of imagery popping up throughout the collection.
“The ‘way out’ that the lovers of ‘The Fantasticks’ are seeking is represented by that doorway,” he tells. “It appears several times in the series as a floating specter, offering a passageway to escape through but not a solution to anything in this world. In the end, it isn’t an escape—just a worn-down door, attached to a shabby house. Both the musical and my series of paintings are about recognizing reality and appreciating the beauty of it.”
An artist his entire life, Duff found himself at numerous museums and galleries around DC during youth. Yet, he didn’t pursue art as a career until moving to Wilmington in 2006. He graduated with arts degrees from both CFCC and UNCW, wherein he did his undergraduate thesis at the now-defunct Projekte Gallery, then run by Bonnie England. Currently, he is working toward his masters in painting, in addition to doing exhibits across town, including one now at Artfuel Inc. as part of their 43rd installment.
“I’ve participated in dozens of group shows as a part of the Thrive Studios Artist Collective, too, which was established in 2009,” Duff says. “I’ve painted murals for a few local businesses, designed posters and T-shirts for several area music acts, and I lead one-night classes in acrylic painting at Wine and Design in Leland.”
His artwork for “The Fantasticks” is on display through June. Partial proceeds from sales benefit Thalian Hall.