Art Notes: Landscapes Between Real and Imagined

Nicola Smith

To what degree are landscapes realistic, and to what degree are they imagined?
Even when a landscape seems an accurate depiction, should we take it as a literal truth? After all, landscape painters have always tinkered freely with reality.

In the Italian and Northern Renaissances, painters frequently combined mythical or religious motifs with rustic landscapes that were partly fanciful and idealized, and partly rooted in the mundane realism of agricultural life. And such painters as Turner and, later, Monet blew up every academician’s idea of what constituted acceptable landscape painting by atomizing light on canvas in ways that had never been seen before. Despite the hold of abstraction on contemporary painting, landscape painting persists. It’s what surrounds us, whether rural or urban; it’s our bedrock. Little wonder that painters return to it over and over.

Two current and notable exhibitions in the White River Valley, “Patrick Dunfey: Large Works on Paper” at White River Gallery in South Royalton, and “Land, Sea and Sky,” paintings by Peter Brooke at BigTown Gallery in Rochester, pose trenchant questions about how to think about landscape, and offer some answers. Last summer, Patrick Dunfey, head of exhibitions design and planning at the Hood Museum of Art, exhibited some of his earlier work in his studio in the TipTop Building in White River Junction. Since then both the scale and feel of his paintings have opened up, Dunfey said in an interview in South Royalton. The works he showed at his studio were compact and contained, measuring, give or take, anywhere from 15 inches in height to 1 to 2 feet across. By contrast, of the five paintings in South Royalton, four measure 60 by 85 inches; the fifth is 60 by 60 inches.

It’s not only in size that the work seem to have burst through the confines of the earlier paintings. The composition and colors are bold and big, with the look of graphic novel panels. They invite you in. Yet, there’s a stillness and subtle menace in the scenes, as if something, or someone, we might not wish to encounter is waiting behind a door or floating just below the water’s surface. That tension keeps the viewer alert and engaged.

“I’m just having the best time,” Dunfey said in an interview at White River Gallery. “I don’t want to do anything that feels ambivalent or half-hearted. When I’m painting I’m wanting it to be just true. I’m not overly contextualizing to the point of making cautious moves. I’m trying it out and for the most part things are really working.” Dunfey catches our attention in other ways, by flattening perspective and using colors that seem just a hue off. Something about the way the objects are seen in relation to one another is a hair off-kilter, too; also as Dunfey intended. They’re landscapes, but landscapes as a “series of indicators. You read this form as a tree, log, stone, or riverbank,” Dunfey said.

Dunfey, who grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire and earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, is uninterested in making landscapes that hew to a pictorial reality, or what he calls painting a “little mountain and a little person on a road.”

Dunfey paints in his spare time, such as it is. Not only has he been working along with other staff at the Hood to install seven commissioned sound installations as part of the museum’s first exhibition devoted to sound, opening Sept. 15 at the Hood Downtown, he is also part of the staff effort to keep the expansion of the Hood Museum on track for the opening in January 2019.

The paintings, of tempera and pigmented gesso, are done on heavy watercolor paper made in England. Dunfey has left them unframed, both because he appreciates the tactile quality of the paper and because he doesn’t want to imply that he views the works as “finished.” Dunfey plans to continue in this current vein. “To do a small painting now would feel like hunkering down, closing in, looking inward,” he said. “The immediacy allows me to become more celebratory.”

Peter W. Brooke, of Pomfret, has contributed 11 works in “Land, Sea and Sky.” Brooke, who has gallery representation in Boston, Philadelphia and at BigTown, paints stunning landscapes that, at first glance, look like photographs of mountains seen through fog and cloud, seascapes shimmering in mist or Vermont pastures. It’s an optical illusion: they’re oil on paper. But, it struck me that if he had actually taken photographs of the same scenes, they wouldn’t have had the same life. The texture and translucency of the paint give the landscapes a sheen and imaginative depth that photography couldn’t quite achieve. His sea- and mountainscapes, in particular, straddle a blurred line between photography and paint, dreams and reality, distance and proximity, refuge and isolation. Brooke conjures mood and emotion with uncanny delicacy. I looked at his paintings at length, and wondered at their meticulousness.

“Patrick Dunfey: Large Works on Paper” is at the White River Gallery at BALE through Sept. 30. As part of First Friday in White River Junction, Dunfey will hold an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 at Studio 225 in the Tip Top Building.

“Land, Sea and Sky,” paintings by Peter Brooke, continues at BigTown Gallery in Rochester through Sept. 10. More of Brooke’s paintings, including works on panel, are also on view at BigTown’s outpost in the Champlain Valley, at 245 Main St., Vergennes, Vt. 802-349-0979.

Also on view at BigTown in Rochester are prints and sculpture by the late Hugh Townley, and “Commune,” an exhibition of photographs of buildings by Boston- and Vermont-based photographer Erik Baier. Through Sept. 9.

from Valley News, August 24, 2017



Delicious Line
Patrick Dunfey: Large Paintings on Paper
White River Gallery

Susan B. Apel

Patrick Dunfey's "Large Paintings on Paper" reflect the feeling of growing up lakeside. Composed of simple, mostly straight lines intersecting at right angles, they resemble Japanese woodblock prints, but are made of pigmented gesso and tempera. Colors are subtly rich in hue and spare in number.

Two of the paintings present a duality of life outdoors. In Day, the viewer is inside a rustic cabin. Light appears through a gauzy window curtain and in slivers around the rectangle of a door. It's cozy and bracing, a day's beginning that is inviting yet obstructed by the room itself. Maybe the day can wait. Breach is swirling water, a log pushed askew. The viewer feels the water rising, and the mounting menace of no escape.

Their proximate vantage point, as well as their size - sixty by eighty inches, a departure from Dunfey's previous works - do not just make the viewer feel as if she could step into them, but as if she could not avoid it.

from delicious line, August 16, 2017



Patrick Dunfey Opens at White River Gallery @ BALE

Susan B. Apel

The White River Gallery @ BALE is small and spare. The walls are covered by the artist's outsized works in an exhibition called, appropriately enough, Patrick Dunfey: Large Paintings on Paper.

The paintings are evocative, but not representational, of a summer childhood spent lakeside. In a conversation with Dunfey about whether the work depicted a particular place, he said no; rather, it is meant to convey the feeling of a place. Further, it needn't be a place in Dunfey's own memory or experience. He is happiest when viewers see his work and are transported to a place of their own, real or imagined. It happened for me. Upon seeing his painting Cove, of a worn but solid-looking dock jutting out into the water, we found ourselves in conversation about the history of a family summer house where the dock has defined the meaning of summer for generations.

In appearance, the paintings are reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, but are in fact done with tempera and pigmented gesso on paper. Structures made of wood, with suggestion of the wood's grain, are common motifs, as are right angles, which add strength to the compositions. A favorite, Day, is particularly arresting because as Dunfey sees it, "It's as if the painting itself is actually in the way of what you want to see." The window, and even better, the slight ribbon of light around the door's edge, means that the day is just on the other side. One is tempted, sorely, to peel back a corner of the window's curtain, or to slam the bolt of that lock open and step outside.

Less cozy is Breach. Water everywhere, a log uncomfortably askew. Dunfey noted that the painting makes people feel uneasy. One senses the water swirling, rising. And there is no dry ground nor steady perch on which the viewer can stand.

Dunfey received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. He and his wife moved from New York City to the Upper Valley in 1985. While he has pursued his art throughout past decades, the works in this exhibition are a renaissance of sorts. After he serendipitously discovered a gallery space in White River Junction's Tip Top Building (he was helping someone find a lost poodle), he decided to rent it. 225 Gallery enabled him to produce works of a larger scale. Dunfey is also the Head of Exhibitions Design and Planning at the Hood Museum of Art.

Patrick Dunfey: Large Paintings on Paper continues through September 30, 2017. To view more of Patrick Dunfey's work, visit his website. For gallery hours and further information about the White River Gallery, please click here.

from DailyUV, August 10, 2017



Seven Days
Patrick Dunfey: Large Paintings on Paper,
White River Gallery @ BALE

Meg Brazill

Patrick Dunfey's exhibit of new paintings conveys us from the interior of a primitive cabin across a swamp, then to the exterior of a rural camp and over to an isolated dock. His richly saturated palette invites viewers into a world that seems familiar and comforting, while also being eerie and somewhat foreboding. That old cabin may be picturesque, but you might not want to step inside.

Indeed, the extreme close-up point of view that Dunfey employs makes a further approach impossible to imagine. We are already too close, as if a stranger introduced himself and continued conversing while standing less than a foot away.

The exhibition's subtitle, "Large Paintings on Paper," is an understatement. All but one of the five paintings are 60 by 85 inches; the gallery walls are just wide enough to exhibit two of them side by side. The paintings are luscious, inventive and mysterious by turns. Those who saw Dunfey's 2016 exhibition at the Tip Top building in White River Junction are in for a surprise. The largest work on exhibit there was just 22 by 24 inches.

A New Hampshire native, Dunfey received his BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1981. He lives in Hanover, where he is head of exhibitions design and planning at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. His work has been shown in museums and gallery exhibitions nationwide and is in the permanent collections at numerous universities and museums. A move to a much larger studio in the past year is the evident explanation for Dunfey's exploration of large works on paper, if not for the renewed exuberance he shows here.

The artist's instincts for color are spot on in these paintings. He uses gunmetal blue to flesh out a cabin's interior, pale yellow to describe the rim of sunlight that the door attempts to keep out, and putty gray for the daubing used to chink spaces between the wall boards. For each painting, Dunfey begins with a limited palette of one or two colors; he restricts himself to just one or two brushes, then lets things unfold.

These new paintings are executed with the trademark precision that he brings to all his work, but here Dunfey allows — even seemingly delights in — the occasional paint drip and unplanned moment. These are tight, focused, complete works. They exude confidence that isn't confined by perfection. In fact, he chose to hang the works with pushpins.

Dunfey said he prefers the rough edges of the painting to be seen and felt, not hidden by a mat or frame. The pushpins add a provisional quality, too, perhaps inadvertently, as if he is painting so quickly that new paintings will arrive any moment to take the place of these. Or as if, when the lights in the gallery are turned off and the door is locked, magical realism might take over. The hose in "Leader" might uncoil, spinning out of control; the river in "Breach" might rise higher and fill the painting with water and logs.

If they were scaled down, Dunfey's paintings would appear almost photographic. "At this size, the roughness, the immediacy seems more important," Dunfey said in a conversation about his work. "It's not trying to be representational. I'm not interested in what's real." He makes an important point here: Dunfey is painting ideas derived from his head, not from existing images or photographs or references to other works of art.

All the paintings are tempera and pigmented gesso on paper. Dunfey doesn't consider them a series, but he's created them all since January. At first glance, "Day" depicts a rudimentary cabin, its seams daubed with a mud-like substance. A thin cloth covers the sole window. Our view is from inside the cabin, its door secured with a single-bolt lock. It's not apparent how the door can be opened from the inside; there's no latch or handle.

The light shining through the cloth implies it's daytime, as the title suggests, but that light also reveals what might be bars on the window, rather than a checkered pattern on the cloth. A slightly askew horseshoe hangs above the door in a "U" position, so all the luck doesn't fall out. The scene is beautiful and heartbreaking, yet it's difficult to know precisely why. For all its seeming simplicity, the work is highly evocative, likely to open doors in a viewer's psyche or bring a buried memory to the surface.

The big, cartoonish shoes that appeared in Philip Guston's paintings may come to mind as one looks at some of the elements of Dunfey's: the oozing mud between the boards and the crooked horseshoe in "Day"; the hose and wooden reel in "Leader"; the place where water and land meet in "Breach." Like Guston, Dunfey is not making a joke, even when semblances of a cartoon style slip in. Viewers may also think of Marsden Hartley, who took Maine as his muse. Dunfey, however, who is also a songwriter, embraces a rural America that has more to do with music than with one specific place.

The native New Englander describes himself as increasingly happy over the years to be "so informed by the region I grew up in." Yet these paintings seem to describe areas well beyond the Northeast — perhaps deep in Appalachia, or the rural South or Southwest. "I write songs, so often a painting will come from the first lyric, or from just a single word," Dunfey said. "My creative self has been fueled by music, writing and history."

What about these paintings suspends the viewer between comfort and unease? It may be that their flatness sets up a conundrum in the brain. The perspective puts us in the water, almost at the dock, in "Cove." In "Breach," the perspective is again from the water, setting us adrift. We see the images as not flat, yet the brain knows they are. Our biological understanding of what is real and what is not may be confounded by what we think we see right in front of us.

No matter, what you see in Dunfey's work is, in fact, what you get — and you're likely to want more of it.

from Seven Days, August 9, 2017



Valley News
Painters Give Their Works a Space
for Conversation at the Tip Top

Nicola Smith

This May, Patrick Dunfey, an artist who is also the Head of Exhibitions Design and Planning at the Hood Museum of Art, was visiting the Tip Top Building in White River Junction when he ran into a woman who’d lost her poodle. Dunfey volunteered to help her find the dog (which turned up later in another part of the building), and as he wandered down a corridor on the second floor he came across a door that opened onto an empty space. 

It was six in the evening, and light poured in through south-facing windows and large square skylights. Dunfey, who lives with his wife, Amy Dunfey, in Hanover, had long been making his own art in the basement of their house, a place without any natural light. This was the polar opposite, a place where, he said, “the light endlessly moves.”

Dunfey now has a space, 225 Gallery, where he can paint, and where he can exhibit both his own work and that of others. The studio is not an exhibition space, per se, Dunfey said. But it’s possible that he will open it in the future for other shows.

To inaugurate 225 Gallery, Dunfey is currently exhibiting six of his paintings in conjunction with seven paintings by Enrico Riley, who grew up in Richmond, Va., and graduated from Dartmouth in 1995 with a B.A. in visual studies. Riley went on to get an M.F.A. from Yale, returned to Dartmouth to teach in 2001 and is now a professor in the college’s Studio Art Department.

The two men have known each other since the early 2000s and although they get together fairly regularly to play guitar, they have not previously exhibited their work side by side. In this exhibition at least, the two men have very different styles, and work on a different scale.

Riley’s canvases are 5 feet by 4 feet, give or take, while Dunfey’s are more compact, measuring from 15 inches long to 1 to 2 feet across. The interplay between the two men’s works could be called a conversation, or you might call it a musical back-and-forth, with Riley and Dunfey trading lines and riffs. What compels the attention at first glance are Riley’s paintings — and not only because of their scale.

In this summer of our discontent, the paintings resonate with menace and anxiety, and speak to the ever present issue of America’s long, tangled history of racial division. The killings of black men and police in the past two years have provoked outrage, fear and grief, while the events of the last two weeks have provoked commentators to chase analogies to 1968, when the U.S. came apart at the seams.

Riley’s works show disembodied hands and feet bound by thick coils of rope, ropes hanging from tree branches, a body lying somewhat hidden in grass, heavy, menacing gun barrels that poke in from outside the frame, brass horns that may sound an alarm, the bristling tails of dogs that may be tracking humans. All against an intense blue background. The force of the imagery comes from implication and what is not explicitly shown. The viewer supplies the rest of whatever narrative comes to mind.

Riley began these works in the spring of 2015. He points out that he has not relied on specific images or incidents for these paintings. Rather, he’s drawing, Riley said, on hundreds of years of history, and art history, in making the images, and is not relying specifically or exclusively on imagery depicting the subjugation of Africans brought by force to the Americas.

“What I guess I saw right away was a completely contemporaneous take on — it’s not history, it’s the emotions of history,” Dunfey said.

Put it this way: Riley’s paintings are just as pertinent in another context, where political instability, torture and violence have led to thousands of deaths — Chechnya, Syria, Iraq and Stalin’s Soviet Union come to mind. History is filled with accounts of the barbaric things humans do to each other, Riley said. “No one group has a monopoly on suffering.”

And art history has no shortage of work that depicts human brutality: Bosch, Brueghel, Goya, Manet and Picasso, to name a few, have all dealt with the excesses of war. This is the first time, however, that Riley, whose previous works are rooted in abstraction, has made paintings that “deal overtly with race and violence.” He doesn’t want to be put in the position of having to speak for an entire race or gender, he said; nor does he want to be pigeonholed as having issued a specific political statement about life in the U.S. But after the past two years of a seemingly endless loop of shootings and the instant proliferation and pervasiveness of images of death on the internet and in the media, the subject began to ring an insistent bell in the way that ideas begin to push forward in an artist’s mind. “Never have I had those issues in the forefront of my work, but as an artist you always reserve the right for these unexpected changes to happen and go to them,” Riley said.

Riley began with images of people diving into water. “I had no idea where that would lead me,” he said. He’s always liked painting rope, he said, which led to seeing rope that binds, which made him think of the possibility of turning rope into horns. Human skin can be transformed into animal skin, a branch can turn into the leg of a horse. “As an artist it’s your willingness to recognize when something is happening or changing. Do I allow myself to go there? Does this slight change signal that this is something that I should follow? ... I let more and more come in,” Riley said.

Dunfey’s paintings, of pieces of wheels, initials carved into wood, silhouettes of heads, letters bound in ribbon, provide a subtle counterpoint to Riley’s work. They are tucked in next to Riley’s work, and seem to give them a nudge. And they poke at the viewer, too. “The more you sit with them, the more you see the interplay between them. I think that’s really satisfying,” Riley said. “How the work came together and how it might work was part of what interested us,” Dunfey said. Dunfey’s paintings, which are a mixture of ink, dry pigment and acrylic, echo with things unsaid or stored away, of departures and empty rooms and humans left behind, of situations deliberately or unconsciously left unresolved.

He pulled out other paintings, not in the show, that depict money, fish skeletons placed next to corn husks or knotted ropes. They have titles such as Distaff, Missals, Academy, Type, or Homestead. Dunfey begins with words, usually. “My painting is not so much influenced by art but through writing and reading,” he said. “The title will somehow precede the work.”

A word or phrase will come to mind. He carries it around for a while, and then might write it down. “I’m quietly sitting with that word for a while, and then the image comes together,” Dunfey said.

“At the outset, Patrick’s work might be quieter and a little more indirect, but his work gets to an emotional place where I’m trying to go with my work,” Riley said. “His paintings are cropped or incomplete in a really great way.”

Dunfey, who grew up in Manchester, NH, received a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, and moved with his wife to the Upper Valley from New York in 1985. Prior to taking the position at the Hood in 2003 he worked as a graphic designer. In the 1980s, he sold a number of works through New York galleries. But it’s been some time, he said, since he has had a gallery show. “I’m happy to have so much of my work with me now,” Dunfey said. For all the paintings he’s finished there are others that he returns to again and again. “I’ve come to like the idea of having all this unfinished work. It used to bother me, but now it’s a good thing, instead of, I’m exhausted, my ideas are shot,” Dunfey added. For years, he said, he thought he didn’t want to make larger paintings but that was because, he now realizes, his home studio didn’t permit it.

While the Hood Museum is closed during its three-year expansion, Dunfey is working on the digitization of the museum collections, and planning both the design of the exhibitions that mark the reopening of the museum, and the design of the Hood Museum Downtown, which opens in September in the old Amidon Jewelers space on South Main Street in Hanover.

For his part, Riley heads in September to Italy to take up a residency at the American Academy in Rome. This spring, he was awarded the academy’s distinguished Rome Prize, given annually to American artists and scholars who show significant talent. The appointment, which runs nearly a year, allows him to paint and live in the city with no obligations other than to his work. He plans to use the time to study the Renaissance masters. Whether Riley will continue in his current vein he doesn’t yet know.

But the paintings on view at 225 Gallery serve a larger purpose. “One of the stronger feelings I’ve had is that these aren’t about me. They’re broader than my individual experience,” Riley said.

“There’s so much silence, and this work is not silent,” Dunfey said.

from Valley News, July 21, 2016



Patrick Dunfey and
Joseph Santore at Edward Thorp Gallery

Alisa Tager  

Although Joseph Santore and Patrick Dunfey share an obsessive appreciation for detail, they approach figurative painting from different perspectives. Whereas Santore paints huge allegorical  panoramas filled with seemingly inconsequential particulars, Dunfey paints small, elegant works that focus exclusively on the details, thus eliminating any broader context. Both artists concentrate on subjects that appear strangely familiar yet oddly elusive. Santore provides so much information that his art becomes a kind of visual overload; Dunfey’s work is so minimal that he has had to provide a written handout as a key into the work’s context. Both artists draw us into their work by their indirectness—Santore by virtue of his puzzling narrative and Dunfey by the oddness and suggestiveness of his fragments.

In Santore’s huge (11 by 22 feet) painting Tintoretto’s Studio, a naked man and a woman in a robe sit together across the studio from a seated man—presumably the artist—who stares straight out at the viewer. There is an abundance of detail in the picture, yet the narrative remains incomplete; Santore provides all of the visual evidence but resists telling a story. The walls, floors, and ceiling of the studio are splotched, stained, and cluttered, and the models look sad—or perhaps just exhausted.

Similarly, Dunfey’s small-scale paintings provide glimpses of the American past that conceal as much, or more, than they reveal. Parlor shows a diagonal portion of a draped purple curtain and a small section of wood panel below a bright orange wall. It is an intimately skewed vision of a public room in a private home from a bygone era. Seemingly trivial fragments, such as the ominous close-up of tin cans in Terror, provide strange views into the past by forcing us to focus on details that usually fade into the background.

from ARTnews, October 1993



Art in America
Patrick Dunfey at Damon Brandt

Eileen Myles 

Patrick Dunfey's recent show consisted of nine paintings, each devoted to one luminous article or arrangement of things. Dunfey portrays the apparatus of adventures that took place in the past of this continent: a section of a mast from a 19th-century ship, a deed, a crown, a section of a coin, a painted baton, a carved bamboo pole. He intends each image to evoke a moment from the journals of that time.  

I feel tempted to call these objects sculpture; their painted existence within the frame is rough-hewn and mythic. While not cartoon-like or primitive, each piece has a simple directness that seems pretty fetishistic. As uniforms aren't quite clothes, neither are Dunfey's items actually "things": they're more on the order of imagined relics. Each one invites us to guess its weight, how old it is and so on. Dunfey counts on the naïve appreciation we reserve for the cast-off pieces of other people's lives—a notebook found at a concert, say, or the trophies that fill a junk shop. In the case of these reverenced things, it's a whole culture Dunfey sentimentalizes.  

We're used to Dunfey's kind of shorthand in cinema: as the captain writes in his log, the camera holds on the bobbing compass. There's a luxury in an enduring gaze at an object in a closed universe; it's like poetry. More loaded is the subject of a painting called Glory, a simple crown radiating on a black background reminiscent of Ross Bleckner. The image sent me running to my dictionary to look up metonymy again."To the Crown!" cries the leader of the trader pirates, and the men lift their glasses as one. The humor in this work is intended, I think. In the context of a life of adventure, the power of that one burning little emblem is perhaps equivalent to a 20th-century happy face (or earlier, to a cross). By naming this work Glory, Dunfey illuminates one of Fredric Jameson's formulations: "The larger concept of irony is at one with the general spirit of idealism itself."  

Dunfey's titles are evocative and directive, yet viewing his mall of "symbols" we slam up against a wall, that of the past, whose meaning we can only guess at. Campaign, for example, is a roseate depiction of the foot of a mast, though this piece of timber may mark the end of one delirious sailor's voyage, death being the inevitable boundary of travel and adventure—and everything else. We are not lured so much by the painting's sensuous surface as by its stubborn thereness. The voyage of Patrick Dunfey holds many such blunt pleasures.  

from Art in America, December 1988



Patrick Dunfey

Marjorie Welish  

To be truthful, painting has not been a primary influence in my life. The foremost influence, in that it inspires a desire for me to create, is literature. Reading is how I start the day." Patrick Dunfey is carefully gauging what he can legitimately claim to be true about his creative process. "My painting begins at the point at which I put the book down and stare ahead. I find that if you pursue the imagination directly, you lose it." For Dunfey, books proffer a kind of nature, available for study and conducive to daydreaming.  

Sometimes literature provides immediate inspiration for subject matter, and sometimes not. In any event, the most compelling of his small discordant canvases—at once forthright and enigmatic—are not explained away once their literary source is revealed.  

In Frame (1987), for instance, a quaint metal armature, bent at the joints and suspended against a more abstract frame, suggests a mechanism that has taken possession of a mind. Dunfey had read that Meriwether Lewis, on his 1804 expedition with William Clark to find the source of the Missouri River and to survey what lay beyond, took along an iron boat frame he had invented. When improperly cured buffalo hides failed to keep the boat watertight, Lewis promptly crushed his invention. Dunfey, fascinated with the fact that Lewis "dragged the cumbersome thing along only to abandon it," set about creating Frame. But it isn't necessary to know the painting's historical basis to sense its psychological content. Dunfey's dexterous use of ambiguous images—the coupling of frames, one as figure and the other as ground, and the appearance of an intervening shadow—express the burden of invention, whether artistic or scientific. 

"One theme common to my work," says Dunfey, "is the (notion of the) outpost of civilization; moments of tremendous change and crisis expressed not as a factual reality but as a poetic affinity to the emotions." For just this reason he admires Joseph Conrad's stories, and he also responds to the writer's approach to his craft. "Because English was his second language, he had to work harder, and in working harder, he turned up more than if he had been able to think in a directly literary fashion. I feel an affinity to that," Dunfey explains.  

Working harder may be the cornerstone of thirty-year-old Dunfey's career as a painter. "I became interested in painting," he says, "when I got past childhood talent." Raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, Dunfey demonstrated a gift for drawing as a child, but the draftsmanship—"the linear approach to things"—that buoyed him through youth proved insufficient in college. At Rhode Island School of Design, his doubts about whether he could master painting led Dunfey to take a year off. After his leave, he fared better, spending a final year in the school's honors program in Rome. But during four subsequent years struggling as a painter in New York, Dunfey rarely went to galleries. "Until the last few years," he admits, "I had a very defensive approach to painting." He says that only recently did he discover and artistic "affinity with the painting of the 1920s and '30s in America and Europe."  

Consciously or not, much about Dunfey's style suggests metaphysical homespun. Ordinary things are denatured and become enigmatic, leaden, or menacing. These basic forms mix sensation and feeling in unexpected and eerie ways. In Bully (1987), a punching bag is cropped by an illusionistic frame—or from another viewpoint, a de Chirico-style mannequin hunches against a flattened space. Homely yet somehow overbearing, the punching bag-mannequin has less volume than the illusionistic wood grain, which is depicted as though it were physically substantial. A simple configuration, the painting nonetheless unsettles, its ambiguity undermining the commonplace identifications we make each day of our lives. As in the best ofDunfey's canvases, the object gains stubborn visual presence by steadfastly removing itself from the obviousness of mere illustration.  

Dunfey's objects—envelopes, books, wheels, leaves, ships' masts, wigs—constitute a catalogue of simple things from the simpler age of preindustrial America. And, employing a strong graphic sense, he favors colors typical of the American folk palette: dull brick, ivory, pale sere leaf, pale sky blue—tints always eroded in composition by smoky black shadows. In fact, the American strain in Dunfey's art has less to do with evidence of the dour forms and expressionist overtones of early American modernism than with the blunt signs of an Americana that predates the art of the 1920s by more than a century.  

In Dunfey's paintings 19th-century folk artists and 20th-century modernists encounter each other and seem to get on uncommonly well. "Erastus Salisbury Field, I'd like you to meet Giorgio de Chirico; Ammi Phillips, I'd like you to meet Max Ernst." In Whig (1988) and in Deed (1987), such sources have been totally absorbed and re-formed with a quirky flair all Dunfey's own. His maturing art owes a lot to his firmly placed subjectivity.  

It may come as little surprise, then, that after his stint in New York, this young but focused artist returned to New England to live. It was an accident, Dunfey notes, that his wife's family house in Hanover, New Hampshire, brought him back to his home state. He could imagine himself elsewhere, but elsewhere in New England—quiet and affordable, affording him time to paint. And to read.   

from ARTnews, Summer 1988



Los Angeles Times
Patrick Dunfey at Pence Gallery

Cathy Curtiss

In small, dry, linear paintings, New Hampshire artist Patrick Dunfey borrows from the 19th-century American sign-painter’s craft to isolate homespun artifacts and give them ironically nostalgic references.

“Commerce” is the teasing title for the image of a crudely made wagon wheel dangling a red ribbon. In “Crest,” a leafy cutting garnishes a door-knocker decorated with small red and blue balls that cast flat gold-circle reflections. A glimpse of the inside of a boat draped with an unused sail (“Scuttle”) alludes self-consciously to poetic notions of the seafaring life.

This idiosyncratic repertoire of objects-as-symbols has a close-lipped, introverted side that plugs into the American painting tradition as well as the contemporary itch to dissect ordinary things–an unusual and appealing combo. (Pence Gallery, 908 Colorado Ave., to April 2.)

from Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1988



Art & Antiques
Patrick Dunfey at Damon Brandt Gallery

Andrew Boynton

Patrick Dunfey used to paint big landscapes he "could crawl inside of." When he left the city, the escapist element in his art left, too, and his paintings became smaller and humbler, with subjects like money, a post, and Coil. Some objects have attached meanings, others are bland, so Dunfey does the democratic thing: loaded images are deflated, and meek ones get a little more limelight than they're used to. At Damon Brandt Gallery in New York, February 13–March 12.

from Art & Antiques Magazine, February 1988