Artist Duke Windsor offers food for thought

A painting of a cheeseburger
“Cheese Burger, No Fries,” by Duke Windsor (acrylic and gold leaf, 2020)
(Oceanside Museum of Art)

Mt. Helix artist shows off new series of hamburger still life paintings at the Oceanside Museum of Art


Just before the pandemic, Duke Windsor was teaching painting composition at Art on 30th, a community art space in North Park. The concept he was teaching his students was relatively simple: In the absence of a subject, a painter will create their own, often painting what’s around them. He recalls showing his students slides of still life paintings. One of these slides was of a Dutch master painting of the artist’s kitchen complete with items like a slab of meat, flour and other ingredients.

“Someone remarked, ‘it kind of reminds me of making a nice burger,’” recalls Windsor, who had already been making sketches of burgers after becoming intrigued by the marketing posters of fast food restaurants. “It wasn’t until a year later when I remembered this exchange. I went back to my sketchbook and found this burger.”

Using acrylics and inspired by the Dutch masters he once admired while working at the Timken Museum, Windsor set out to paint what he calls “modern still lifes” of hamburgers. The resulting series of works — with names like “Ah Yes More Ketchup” and “Where’s the Beef” — will be shown at “Duke Windsor: Nothing’s Impossible,” a solo exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art. The burger paintings are clearly a subversive, clever take on a classical style. And while Windsor agrees there is a humorous side to his still lifes, they still work as a highbrow representation of modern diets.

“It’s also about our quality of food versus what was eaten back then, and the commercialization of that food as well,” Windsor says from his home in Mt. Helix. “It’s not necessarily a poke at that industry, but in a way, it’s tongue-in-cheek.”

A painting of a cheeseburger
“Let’s Eat,” by Duke Windsor
(Oceanside Museum of Art)

In many ways, the burger paintings represent something of a departure for Windsor. While he still uses acrylics and gold leaf gilding in the burger paintings, he’s mostly become known for his series of San Diego cityscapes and alleyways. Still, one commonality within his 20-plus year career is his exploration of the concept of comfort. While not overt, Windsor seems to be attracted to the idea of solace, whether it’s the comforts of home or, in the case of his burgers, the satiation one might feel while enjoying a favorite food.

“It is about comfort,” Windsor says. “It is about something that’s intrinsic to our tastes and beliefs.”

“They all deal with a sense of place, of belonging, desire and vision,” Windsor continues, referring to the collective body of paintings he’s made over the years. “They deal in the idea that the only way you can have a vision of something that you enjoy is if it’s an icon.”

In addition to venturing in still life paintings, Windsor also changed his technique for the new series. He used larger brushwork to create more visceral textures for the burgers. Whereas in the past, he’d attempt to incorporate abstract techniques into his own style of realism, for the burger series, his applications were more deliberate and direct. One thing he didn’t change, however, is his use of gold leaf gilding to make the burgers pop off the canvas.

“I always think of that movie with Michael Douglas (“Falling Down”) where he gets his burger and gets really upset about how it looks,” says Windsor. “It’s a poke at that. An artist’s job is to create a dialogue and really get in-depth of the meaning behind something. The concept of what we see, and what we really get.”

The solo show at OMA also marks the first time Windsor has been exhibited at one of San Diego’s larger cultural institutions. He’s had solo shows at galleries and exhibited in countless group shows over the years, but he says it feels “great” to be recognized for his commitment. A former Marine who moved to San Diego in 1979, he credits his military experience as giving him the drive and commitment to stick with his art.

A man sitting on a bench in front of paintings in a gallery
San Diego artist Duke Windsor at Sparks Gallery in 2019
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“You just have to go out there and work your butt off to get known, and I think that’s what I’ve been doing over the years,” says Windsor, who bought his Mt. Helix home in the ’90s and has used his garage as his studio ever since. “It’s about doing the work. Showing up. I think San Diego has really molded me into being tenacious about doing my work regardless of what happens.”

Over the years, he’s worked in abstracts, figurative pieces, and, most notably, his cityscapes and alleyway series of works. He’s never ceased to be prolific, constantly creating new works and experimenting with new forms and techniques. In addition to “Nothing’s Impossible,” he has a solo show planned for Sparks Gallery in October 2022, where he plans to revisit his more figurative “Men at Work” series, which focuses on Caltrans workers. He also wants to explore “urban still lifes,” as well as a series exploring his rodeo days.

For now, however, he’s simply excited about tapping into patrons’ sense of nostalgia and iconography with his 29 still life paintings.

“I just want people to come out, look at them and think of them from their own perspective. What do they remember the first time they had a burger,” asks Windsor before adding, “just be sure to eat before showing up.”

‘Duke Windsor: Nothing’s Impossible’

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Exhibition runs through through March 13

Where: Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way, Oceanside

Price: Free-$10

Phone: (760) 435-3720