The Whirling Girlish discusses technology and the struggle between artistic influence vs. artistic inspiration, and a talks with contemporary artist, Kyle Austin Dunn
By Andrea Jackson
October 21, 2013
(A Couple Dozen Affected Areas of Color, 2013)
San Francisco Bay, CA—As a media and communications student, I’m constantly trolling the web for new stories, trending topics, and cultural happenings. My days are consumed in exploring content and seeking the “next big thing”. Much of my exploration takes me through the world of art, as I scroll through infinite pages of the internet squinting my eyes at the computer screen observing countless paintings, sculptures, installations, pictures of weird cats—you name it.
As of late, the world of contemporary art seems almost starved of pure originality. Instead it almost seems to represent a culture that fosters only certain fads, trends and styles which are accepted not only by the masses, but by the artists. So turns a revolving door of art work with uncanny similar aesthetic qualities. My Pinterest dashboard looks like a Basquiat festival gone awry, or like a small child has been wreaking havoc with a box of Crayola markers.
Where have all the craftsmen (or women) gone? Is this the death of the Avant Garde?
It would be foolish for me to sit here and pretend that I don’t fully support advancing technology, and that I think access to such tools as the internet, and social networking platforms aren’t important. They are. But as we progress, the line between artistic influence and artistic inspiration gets thinner and thinner. I have identified pros and cons with this. Positively, more audiences are able to access information on art and news faster than ever before. Resources are available to educate ourselves virtually 24 hours a day. Artists in particular, can communicate with each other, and stay current with the evolving world of their vocation. But everything has its limits.
This overload of information has created a mentality in artisans to toss out traditional methods and follow the path paved by others, a safer path. They are also paths that seems to exude extremist ideals. There is a lack of balance between pure and profane, minimalists and maximalists. We have become so accustomed to adapting ourselves to these trends, that actual revolutionary, contemporary art has in fact transgressed less and less over time.
A recent article written by NY Magazine contributor, Jerry Saltz, calls this act of conformity “Neo-Mannerism”. A notable tone of irritation radiates through his words as he paints a clear portrait of artists today. He refers to these artists as wannabe “junior post modernists”, and “generic”.* After reading his article, I sat back and thought, “Ouch, he actually said it out loud.”
But there is truth to Saltz’s comments, and I can empathize with his frustration. I wanted to find an exception to that trend. It would mean coming across an artist that didn’t fit “that” mold. It would mean an artist which has accepted technology’s place in our society, and learned to appreciate and understand stylistic fads and trends, but from a safe distance. Perhaps even an abstract artist, whose work wasn’t exclusive to small Diasporas of existentialists, but rather work which might be pleasing to anyone. I knew I would be pushing it here, but I even wanted to find an artist dedicated to perfecting their skill, and increasing the quality of their art (call me old fashioned, no don’t).
But I found one!
Kyle Austin Dunn is the future. His art is, anyways. I had the opportunity to speak with Dunn recently. He’s an East Coast transplant living in the San Francisco Bay area, and a recent Master of Fine Arts Graduate from the University of California, Davis.
There is a unique quality to his work. At first, a viewer might see his paintings, sculptures, and installations, as fun and nonsensical concoctions. But a closer analysis proves otherwise.
Meticulous precision and a skilled hand produce works which one might think could only possibly be rendered by a machine. A futuristic graphic quality emerges from the neon paint, spread thoughtfully and methodically on diverse surfaces.
(Pretty Camouflage, 2011)
“I struggle with allowing any sort of emotive response”, says Dunn in regards to the inspiration which generates his work. Perhaps this is what I find so appealing. Each piece is a break from an influx of loose, gestural and often just plain bizarre compositions. His work is a product of vision, and skilled execution.
But perhaps there is actually more of Dunn in his work than he thinks. While he might not flick paint at a canvas amidst a spell of angst or frustration, there are pieces of his personality which translate into his work. This becomes clear after speaking with him.
A career in the arts was not always the only path for Dunn. His early collegiate career was faced with a decision between an education in art, or science which would lead to medical school. I’ll let you guess which one he picked…
It’s safe to say choosing art was a solid choice on his part. But I think that decision goes to say something. There is an underlying structure and science in each of Dunn’s paintings while a bold and almost humorous exterior surfaces. During my conversation with Dunn, it was evident that this is the case in his art. It is fun, and created solely for aesthetic pleasure, but is built upon a foundation of purpose and well-practiced exercise.
(Balled Up Lines and Color, 2013)
When I asked Dunn where he drew his inspiration from, if not blog surfing, then where? We discussed the “rapid fire” of image processing and the inevitable dwarfing of art images, hindering viewers’ overall experience. While he admits, it is important to stay current; he finds most of his inspiration simply comes from daily life. Dunn continually strives to produce work which he has never seen before, carefully straying away from anything overridden with hype. Successfully, he creates pieces which still exude contemporary ideals and aesthetic appeal while staying true to his self.
Dunn’s installation A Bunch of Heavy Lines composed of tangled PVC pipe obstructs a stairwell, challenging viewers’ ideas of utility, form, and function. Dunn’s sculptures and paintings disguise different plastics as other materials like metal and wood, inviting the observer to examine the piece more closely to make sense of its disposition.
(A Bunch of Heavy Lines, 2013)
When I looked at his painting Sections Form Categories I began to create relationships between the objects and figures present on the canvas. I grouped together the forms within the four quadrants of the painting, and supposed associations that I began to realize may not even exist to begin with. I had become so enthralled in deciphering the meaning of the title, that I had lost sight of the painting’s purpose—a mode of practice for Dunn to perfect his skill, and to be something nice for people to look at. It was suddenly okay to just stand and appreciate his tactful manipulation of spaces and shapes.
(Sections Form Categories, 2013)
Even I can’t escape my extremist tendencies to build romantic and existentialist tales about things, I guess.
“I think titles are possibly the best way to incorporate text into art”, said Dunn. Yes. I agree. Today it seems that a painting or sculpture without bold Helvetica letters tattooed on it is a novel gesture.
I can feel a movement starting, constituted of people craving quality and innovation. People will want to see more art like Kyle Austin Dunn’s. There is something magnetic about art which stands shamelessly and unapologetically on its own.
Dunn currently resides in San Francisco with his wife, Rachelle, and their dog Maia. His residency is at the Headlands Center for the Arts.For more information about Dunn and his work, you can visit his website KyleAustinDunn.com or click here.
* For more information about Jerry Saltz’s article on Neo-Mannerism, click here.
All images used in this article are copyrighted to Kyle Austin Dunn, Artist Inc., and have been granted permission from the owner to publish on The Whirling Girlish website.