John R. Duke grew up in DeKalb County, Georgia. It was there when he first realized his love for doing art.
"When I was in kindergarten my teacher called my mom one day and told her that they had a problem,” Duke said. “They had song and dance day, and I had told the teacher I wouldn’t sing their silly songs or dance their stupid dances. They kept finding me in the other room painting.”
Duke’s teacher told his mom they were only calling out of concern. So, his mom asked if he wasn’t hurting anything to just let him paint.
There was also a teenager that lived across the street from Duke who worked at an art store.
“He was an artist and would bring me over paper, paints and books,” Duke said, “He was nice enough to let me see his artwork and explain how things were done.”
After high school, Duke went on to attend the Atlanta College of Art, where he received a bachelor's degree in fine arts.
Today Duke enjoys working in many types of mediums. His favorite one is watercolors, but he also would like to get back to working with linoleum printing and sculpture, a couple of art forms he worked with when he was in college.
“I just finished a 40"x 50" oil painting commission for a family in Dunwoody and started combining pastel in with watercolors on a few paintings,” Duke said.
Duke uses Cobble Creek Studios to work and display his art. Cobble Creek is located on Scenic Highway in Snellville. He also helps out around the gallery setting up art shows.
“I met Deborah Kepes at the frame shop across the street from the studio,” Duke said. “I needed a studio away from the distractions at home and also to be viewed more by the public, so she offered me a space where I can now work, give lessons in watercolor to adult students.”
In 2005, Duke experienced a life-changing event. He had started dialysis treatments, but then in February of 2006, he needed a kidney transplant. Not only did it change his life, but also it changed the way he viewed his work.
“Before and after college, I did more surrealistic and fantasy type artwork,” Duke said, “Then I had a span of time where working didn't leave very much time to create art, an occasional pencil portrait or an acrylic painting.”
Duke said he began painting watercolors just before he had to start dialysis treatment. Through that and his new appreciation of life and the world around, his artwork morphed into a more realistic colorist form.
“I love the way watercolors captures light, the inner glow and brightness of the pigment," he said. "The way the paint flows is great for capturing nature, and I think I started painting barns, mills and drive-in scenes, because these are places that are vanishing forever."
Duke also does murals. The first three murals he did at Snellville Masonic Lodge are of the steps to becoming a full mason. It took him about seven months to complete all three.
Duke kept the paintings covered when he wasn't working on them. When they were finished there was an unveiling ceremony. Many people and masons from around the state came.
In general, Duke said many of his works come from right around here, but he hopes to be able to do more traveling in the near future. His ininspiration, he said, comes from things all around him.
"I just hope it makes people feel good when they see my work, to enjoy and remember things that make them happy and appreciate the world around them.”