Duncan Weller - Biography


Duncan Weller Self Portrait

Duncan has always been passionate about the complexity of art and committed to developinng his talents in a variety of forms. His love of writing and painting has taken him to new heights. His expression took root in children's books, yet encompasses writing poetry, short stories, and creating visual art for adults. He has won several awards including the Governor General's Award, and he has exhibited across Canada.

Born in Lennoxville, Quebec, to English immigrants, Duncan moved at the age of six to Thunder Bay, Ontario. His father, Geoffrey Weller, became a Poltical Studies professor at Lakehead University. His mother became an award winning quilter. He has two brothers.

After graduating from Sir Winston Churchill High School, he enrolled in Fine Arts at LU. In his second year he switched his major to English, where he gained respect for children’s books and saw opportunities to apply his talents. At LU he contributed photography, cover art, articles, and cartoons to the student newspaper, The Argus, and the literary journal, The Ventriloquist. He won several awards for his art at student shows, and worked as a commercial artist locally.

After completing his B.A. in 1991, Duncan moved to Toronto during the recession and did several illustrations for magazines and worked as a picture framer. Two years later, he moved to Victoria, B.C. while his parents moved to Prince George, B.C. In Victoria he worked at various jobs in the arts field, joined the Illustrator’s Society, and won several awards for his paintings in juried shows. He also worked in television briefly for a children’s show called Take Off where he painted backdrops for green-screen sets.

After several years he moved to North Vancouver where he continued to work in the arts, and sell his paintings. He worked several months as a contract sculptor and painter in the Play Industry. He became art director with a team of five artists. He began to write poetry more regularly after his father died of cancer.

visual art banner

In 2003 Duncan found a publisher, Simply Read Books, and signed contracts to publish three books, Spacesnake, Night Wall, and The Boy from the Sun. He had completed seven fully illustrated works at this time.

He then moved to Montreal for a cultural lift, to learn French, to write a young adult novel for children, write a book of short stories for adults, and to complete his poetry book.

Developing a friendship with Seattle musician, Steve Ball, Steve created more than thirty minutes worth of music for Night Wall. On the suggestion of Duncan’s brother, Eric, a film-maker and head of the film department at Confederation College, Duncan returned to Thunder Bay to use Steve’s music in a semi-animated short film. He continued to create short animated films for his children’s books and one for the local police department. He also began teaching in two local programs bringing his art skills to children from grades 2 to 6, in various schools in Thunder Bay and Toronto.

While in Thunder Bay, his third book, The Boy from the Sun won two of Canada’s top awards, The Governor General’s Award and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Picture Book Award. He had a successful retrospective show of 96 of his works at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

He has dual citizenship with Britain, and plans to travel and work on his books in Europe, meet with European illustrators and writers, and get a good look at his favourite works of art.

Duncan continues to write and paint full time, working towards larger projects. He continues to show his work at least once a year in private and commercial galleries, and is looking to expand his primary career in the children’s book field.

Addendum to Biography: Artistic Philosophies/ Childhood

Children’s Books
Core perennial themes of beauty, morality, democracy, and variety run throughout all of Duncan’s children’s stories, yet each story contains one or more original contemporary theme. These combined subjects dictate the style and mood for both text and illustrations as he considers the themes more important than any one-identity style. This results in each of his picture books having a distinctive look. It also means the meaning or substance of the art comes intrinsically from the subject of the work. The choice and application of themes, along with the change of style constitute personal expression, but not immediately obvious from the aesthetics of each work.

Often Duncan’s artistic styles are a mix of his own ideas with that of other visual artists. In Night Wall, for example, there is a mix of Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg, and Hao Miyazake.

Visual Art
Following the advice of an artist he met in Windsor, Ontario, Duncan’s philosophy of art appears to be very simple. The advice: “Paint and draw whatever you want!” The result has been a varied portfolio of work, of non-objective and abstract works, surrealism, sci-fi, photo-realism, expressionism, oversized cartooning, and allegorical works. He alternates from creating works that are totally self-indulgent to commissioned works. Lately he has found a voice with themes that require adherence to allegorical works that will result in a consistent aesthetic journey and will be shown publicly.

Adult Writing
Duncan’s adult short stories, fiction and non-fiction, share an understanding inherited and intuitively learned through his continued reading, and from personal experience, within his life and the art world specifically. In Vancouver, posing as a collector, after a gallery owner attempted to steal his work and many others, he discovered a history and network of art thieves. This and similar adventures inspired much of his writing.

His poetry is primarily free verse, with a mix of sarcasm, humour, and clear minded observation. Occasionally his poetry is fanciful, silly, and spiritedly emotional. Subjects and themes tend to be less personal and rely heavily on metaphor and allegory.

At the age of five, Duncan had his first artistic epiphany after roaming the Ontario Science Center in Toronto, where he saw the Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, with his father. Shortly after he drew dozens of fantastic scribbles representing space phenomena.

At the age of eight, inspired by movies and television, he organized and inspired his Spruce St. gang of boys and girls in free-act performances in nearby fields, causing the police at one time to search for the parties responsible for digging WWI style trenches and 5 foot deep pits, which had to be filled in by a bulldozer. In winter, their free-acts resulted in a network of tunnels and rooms dug out of mountains of snow piled at the back of the local shopping mall. In winter he regularly constructed mazes and forts made of snow and wood panels. Indoors, he drew comics featuring his own version of the Pink Panther.

Duncan got a hold of his mother’s oil painting kit when he was fifteen and began painting portraits and landscapes. At sixteen he began painting Rembrandt styled portraits.

Some of the inspiration to paint came from road trips across the United States. His father presented papers at conferences in many different cities on comparative studies of universal health care, economic studies of First Nations groups, and comparative studies of secret intelligence agencies around the world. Duncan's mother had a keen interest in art and during these family travels took him to museums and galleries in dozens of cities all across North America.

As a teenager, with the influence of movies and television, he painted a sci-fi series involving set-like structures, spaceships, space battles, and bizarre otherworldly landscapes. He also read his mother’s complete set of Time-Life - World of Art books. A family friend is the art historian and professor, Patricia Vervoort. While baby-sitting the Vervoort’s dogs and chickens when the Vervoorts vacationed, Duncan had access to a unique library of art history books. Duncan was regularly active in the arts community and submitted works at an early age to local competitions.

At the age of fourteen he began his first children’s picture book inspired by a nightmare of nuclear annihilation in which people he knew on his street began to eat each other. The bombs dropped in the dream were featured in a story called, Sark and Croot in the Colourless Valley.

At the age of nineteen he completed Spacesnake, inspired by a childish whim to draw asteroids. The book was re-written and the illustrations slightly reworked with a cover fifteen years later.

In high school he was encouraged to strengthen his artistic talents. He learnt photography, along with practical drawing and painting techniques. He continued to set up his own darkroom until he bought a digital camera in 2005. Since 1999, Duncan has worked with Apple computers and used various programs.

He continues to explore possibilities of artistic expression, limited within practical realms, avoiding the many pitfalls of modernist ideology and the conservatism of realism, keeping an open mind to allow for Chance, Choice, and Change.