George Dunne, one of the artists of Duke Street Gallery, speaks with Italish.
Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.
― Samuel Beckett, Endgame
Gunfights, macabre inquisitions, dead babies, swollen female nudes with grotesquely formed limbs languishing in bathtubs and emaciated figures lying languidly under lilac parasols are some of the subject-matter that Dunne’s work depicts. Admittedly, it is not for the faint hearted.
However, these are works that challenge our notions of ‘self’ and explore the irony of the human condition; as Dunne aptly puts it we are in part doomed to unknowingly repeat our past mistakes.
My mother was always giving out about my father, you know? She never stopped. He was this and he was that, and when my father died she met another man who was exactly the same as my father and she married him!
To me that’s daft, but that’s life. Life is daft and filled with irony. I like to paint these repeated mistakes.”
Dunne is an artist that paints, simple because he has too.
“I literally have to paint, if I didn’t I’d go bonkers. I’ve always painted, it is as simple as that.”
On his influences, Dunne names the artists George Rouault, Egon Shiele and Paul Klee as those who had the greatest impact on his work as an artist. “I think George Rouault would be the main influence, especially for visuals and for content Egon Schiele and Paul Klee, those three would be the main ones.
I like them because well, simply, they’re brilliant artists!” Years ago Dunne travelled through Italy and was struck by the country’s beauty and deeply historical cultural roots, the sense of history and art that enveloped you. “I loved Florence, you couldn’t go to Florence and not be influenced by what you see, the beauty is mind-boggling there is such history, you can see it and feel it, from the Medici’s influence on the city to the breathtaking impact of the Uffizi.”
The truth is also that it is our own fair city of Dublin that has also been an influence on Dunne’s work, especially the eclectic characters you might happen to meet. “The people you meet around Dublin are odd, to say the least, and my paintings are odd. So the paintings reflect Dublin life in that sense. That’s what it means to me.”
“The nudes in the bath (‘Bath No.1’ and ‘Bath No.2)’ are two separate paintings, they may look virtually the same but tonely they’re completely different, one feels slightly more ordinary and the other one, to me, is more languid: the tone is colder and it reflects a stronger mood.
That’s how I see all of my paintings, they are mood paintings. The colour of the works expresses the mood and the tone of the work. Two paintings, visually similar but palette wise totally different and treated differently.
You can alter the subject matter of a work by the colours you use.”
Many would imagine the typical artist of such dark subject-matter to be a tortured soul whose own personal emotion is poured directly onto the canvas, but would with Dunne it is anything but.
“I don’t see my works as filled with angst in the sense that the angst doesn’t reflect me. I’m not full of angst, for me what they reflect would be irony and the human condition. This condition is brought out by the weather, think about where we live, we live in a northern climate, where a depression from the Atlantic blows in on top of us and that’s exactly what it is, it’s a depression. This is something that does depress people and that’s the way northern people, filled with this Northern angst, this is reflected in my paintings to a great degree.”
It is also what we, as the viewer, can bring to a piece that Dunne feels is fundamental to an artwork as a whole; when we view a piece of art we do so with our own memories and knowledge at the tip of our subconsciousness.
“When people view a painting they bring their own experiences to it, it can transform it anew.”