Duane Zaloudek was born in 1931 in Texhoma, Texas, on the Oklahoma border. His father had lost his farm in the Dust Bowl and gone to work at a feedlot owned by a railroad company. Duane’s parents and another couple had made homes in adjoining boxcars provided on a siding by the railroad, and Duane was delivered by the neighbor, acting as a midwife. As soon as his mother was able to travel, the family drove in their Model T to the grandparents’ farm north of Enid, Oklahoma.
Two years after returning to Oklahoma, Duane’s mother died after childbirth complications, and subsequently Duane was raised by his grandparents until he was nine. He was exposed to traditional country music at an early age — his grandmother, although she had lost her hearing to rheumatic fever, sang and played the piano, and his two youngest uncles sang throughout the day while doing chores.
At nine years old, Duane went to live with his father and new stepmother, who were sharecropping in the area. Through seventh grade, he was educated in one-room prairie schoolhouses, often riding his horse Midnight to school. At thirteen, he moved with his family to Oregon, where his parents worked in the shipyards during WWII. After graduating from high school in 1948, he attended the Portland Museum Art School on a scholarship. At this time, he also began playing guitar and singing folk and topical songs at union-organizing rallies. His scholarship was not renewed after the second year of art school, most likely due to what were considered his leftist activities (this was the McCarthy era).
In 1950, facing the draft, he joined the Air Force and spent a year in Thule, Greenland building a SAC (Strategic Air Command) base. In 1952, he returned to an Air Force base in Washington State, taking night classes at University of Washington Seattle in painting. After discharge, Duane returned to the Portland Museum School and completed his course of study in 1956 on the G.I. Bill.
From 1956-59 he lived and worked in New York, first on Broadway and 11th St., and then on Bond Street near the Bowery. In 1959, Duane returned to Portland and built a studio, teaching part-time and painting full-time. During the 1960s, he became aware of sensory deprivation (aka black box) experiments conducted by Eric von Bekesy at Harvard, as well as Tibetan Buddhism via Brancusi and the early writings of John Cage. Beginning in the late 60s, this awareness precipitated a major change in the direction of his work.
In 1973, after a short stint as a guest artist at UC Davis, Duane returned to New York to continue painting. During the 1980s, he was the lead singer in a country band that performed in downtown bars and at gallery openings and other art-world events. He also recorded demos for the artist Tom Wesselman, a friend who also wrote country songs. Duane has continued to pursue his work in the same East Village studio since 1983.