New American Paintings/Blog

New & Noteworthy: Jason Dunda by openstudiospress
November 9, 2010, 10:56 am
Filed under: Noteworthy | Tags: , , , , ,

The Most Beautiful Electric Chair in the World (Comfy Chair Proposal), 2010 | Gouache on paper, 8 x 9 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Chicago artist Jason Dunda might work with gouache on paper, but his real love is wood. Featured as a Noteworthy artist in edition #83 of New American Paintings, Dunda’s work is as humorous as it is highly reductive. His love of wooden forms in his work led him to build his own object out of the material, and his attention to the hard-formed lines in his work is offset by subtle applications of paint and giant fields of negative space. I caught up Dunda this week to talk wood, his recent work, and what he considers painterly.  —Evan J. Garza

EJG: You were featured as a Noteworthy artist in edition #83 of New American Paintings in 2009. Tell me about the work you were making then, and what you’re working on now.
It was such a great surprise to see that I’d been featured [as a Noteworthy artist] in the front of the magazine.  At the time I was making this work, I was thinking a lot about the end of the world… but in a kind of stupid way. I had just read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Wall-E had just come out, and there was this show on cable called “Life After People” that digitally produced—pretty badly, mind you—what might happen if every human being on earth suddenly disappeared. I started thinking a lot about how futile it is to control our surroundings when the natural world is so powerful and chaotic. I can’t make make art without it being at least a little funny, so I responded to these thoughts by making these beautiful semi-abstractions of landscapes with pathetic man-made alterations. These led to the paintings of the useless ramshackle towers and trees made out of cut logs also published in the magazine.

The Most Beautiful Effigy in the World, 2010 | Gouache on paper, 10 x 14 inches

Currently I’m working on a series called The Most Beautiful Things in the World. The imagery in this series is all about authority—I just finished a painting of a hybrid gallows and vaudeville theatre set, and I’m working on a ridiculous painting of an effigy. The work is all about things that shouldn’t be considered with any kind of aesthetic criteria. I’m still working with gouache in very much the same style as the work you published, but I’m also playing with oil paint for the first time in several years. The results so far are terrible, but I’m having fun and I’m hopeful.

EJG: Your gouache works on paper often feature wooden elements, both natural and seemingly man-made. Tell me about your fondness for wood (no pun intended).
It’s not as much of a fondness as it is a necessity, I think. There’s something important to the implied narratives in the work that require a simple, anachronistic building material. I’ve always imagined that there has to be an unseen person or persons who are building all these ridiculous things and that they’re poorly skilled, poorly equipped, or both.

That said, it’s not as interesting for me to paint brick or concrete or straw as it is to paint wood. There’s something very satisfying about laying in the stylized woodgrain pattern I’ve developed.  In the larger works, it becomes this beautiful irregular paisley-type pattern that flattens the perspective nicely.

The Most Beautiful Wheelbarrow in the World, 2008 | Wood, velvet, tassels, and latex paint, approx. 48 x 22 x 32 inches

EJG: You yourself made a wooden element for “The Wheelbarrow.” Tell me about working in sculpture. Have you made other sculptural works as well?
That wheelbarrow was so much fun to make! In the past I’ve made models to paint from, but the wheelbarrow was my first gallery-quality object. I teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and there’s a fantastic wood shop in the First Year Program. The folks there helped me design and build it and it took about three months of learning how to use a biscuit joiner, table saw, spoke shave, nail gun, and all kinds of other fun tools. The type of problem solving required in three dimensions is so different from those in two dimensions so it was a slow process but so satisfying. I remember very clearly the first moment I joined the chassis to the bucket and wheeled it up and down the hallway like an idiot—my students thought I was even more nuts than usual. I paired the wheelbarrow with a large-scale gouache painting for a show in Toronto and I thought the two pieces disagreed in many interesting ways.

EJG: The wooden forms in the work are also quite sculptural. Tell me about that.
Yeah, the illusion of space and form is really important in the paintings. I pay very close attention to creating a light source. You’ll notice that there’s a facet of the wooden planks that’s consistently darker and cooler in color than the other. I’m always fine tuning my palette so as to allow for a variety of colors that can imply a sense of space. I also utilize some kind of basic two-point perspective, but I sabotage this by making deliberate mistakes. Sometimes you’ll see the top plane of a piece of wood, sometimes a bottom plane.

Installation view, ‘Sensible,’ Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, November 2008

EJG: For as hard-lined as the wood appears, your brushstrokes with landscape are much more fluid.
I think it’s important to fight the meticulous paint work with some gestural moves. It makes the painting more organic and… well… painterly. That’s very important to me, to have the paint just be paint sometimes. I’ve learned a lot about how the right type of brush with the right consistency and load of gouache applied with the right speed can create really beautiful passages. It’s always a risk, though, because gouache is so fussy. But when it works, I love the effect of a quick mark leading to a very labored pattern and shape.

EJG: The compositions in your works are often bare or reductive. What is it about this type of framework that you enjoy pictorially?
Some of that is due to the nature of the paint—gouache is a very effective material for making hard-edged, precise, graphic work. I’ve always loved comics and cartoons, so I think this is where it comes from. I have tons of children’s books in my studio, mostly old Disney ones that reproduce the actual cels, matte paintings, and production art that they used in the films. My Bambi books are among my most prized possessions, as is my copy of The Lively Little Rabbit. I’m also drawn to the painters of the early Renaissance, especially Giotto and Duccio. Their work is so simple and spare and it has more in common with mid-20th century illustration than you might expect.

I think there’s also something about paring an image down to its essential elements that really showcases the color palette. I look at Josef Albers all the time—there’s nothing like getting the right handful of colors to vibrate just the right way. If you keep it simple, sometimes the smallest moves can be monumental.

The Most Beautiful Pulpit in the World , 2008 | Gouache on paper, 55 x 96 inches

EJG: Do you have any projects lined up in the near future?
Yes! I just received a grant from the Propeller Fund for a curatorial project called Five Funerals in which my collaborator, Teena McClelland, and I will be putting together a series of conceptual funerals this coming spring. Contact us if you have an idea that you feel needs to be put to rest. I’m currently in a show of works on paper at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sometime next year, I’m also going to be in a two-person show at an independent gallery in Chicago called Slow.

Incidentally, my west coast representation, Cain Schulte Contemporary Art in San Francisco, found my work through New American Paintings. You guys have been really good for me over the years and I can’t thank you enough for that. I also have to thank you for such terrific, smart, difficult questions. It’s been a real pleasure to do this.


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