Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First Place MYARTSPACE Art Undergraduate Scholarship Award Winner

First Place
Undergraduate Scholarship 2009
goes to Aaron Dunn.

He is studying painting, printmaking and Art History at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Aaron will receive a $5,000 cash award from

The fine detail in Aaron Dunn’s paintings are not just brush strokes, they are an orchestra of color, texture and depth; seldom seen in an artist this young. Aaron’s gripping, but beautiful body of work can be seen on

These illuminating paintings stand as juxtaposition on human nature with technology in a psychological frenzy which challenges, what Aaron calls “our artificial world.”

Questions and Answers:

Q. You’ve won First Place in the MYARTSPACE ART Scholarship; how does it feel?

Aaron Dunn: First off, I feel extremely honored to be presented with this scholarship, and I am especially excited to receive more financial backing to support my painting practice. I’ve been setting up for a semester to study abroad, and this award gives me the freedom to pursue that. I’m so glad that a painting professor of mine, Michael Weiss, tipped me off to your website and the scholarship competition last year.

Q: You’re a sophomore but your work is so accomplished for your age; skill displayed in your work is quite impressive.

A: I’ve found that the most important part of creating good work is really spending time with it, no matter what your media of preference, so I try to be in the studio as often and as long as I can. The idea of individual craft and subjectivity is key to my practice. I’ve found a great niche at the Maryland Institute College of Art, because we are all a hardworking bunch, and my peers really inspire me to take my work further.

Q. Can you tell me about the painting “Marshes?”

A: This work contemplates the psychology of the modern suburban human, how he or she relates to the natural world. This series of multimedia work created this year centers on a hypothetical situation, in which the suburbs and malls disappear, and the suburbanites have to go out into the cold and wet; I wondered if they would just freeze, or return to a more primitive state of being, or hallucinate like someone wandering in the desert and pretend nothing had happened at all. The girls in “Marshes” seem to be having a hard time coping, while the landscape and trees have physically entered the human subject of “Girl.” Also, “Ruins” describes the kind of mirage-like hallucination I mentioned before.

Q: How do you find the content for your work?

A: I read a lot of books and I sketch and think a lot. The pieces in this body of work were developed over a longer period of time, so they incorporated a considerable amount of sketches, smaller studies from life, and photographic references. The end result is the product of a lot of addition and reduction over time.

Q: Your pieces are very big and now you’re working on panels eight feet tall. Are you planning on creating larger paintings?

A: I’ve found that my working style gets large very easily, so I’m going to keep pushing the size of my work until I can’t carry these things around anymore. Next I want to paint finished pieces that are very small.

Q: What are your professors trying to get you to connect to?

A: I’ve been very fortunate to have professors that have pushed me from the beginning to find out what my own work is about and connect with making art as a way of life, not a fad or a hobby. I am especially grateful to MICA professors Sangram Majumdar and Lani Irwin for supporting me in this way.

Q: Do you have a mission right now or are your working through your instincts?

A: As people move farther and farther into, so called, “civilization” I like to point out the ways we are still unpredictable, still a part of something bigger, still human. There’s a real need to hold on to the world of nature and personal value -- things that can’t be bought, sold or quantified. It’s not about living right off the land, it’s respecting that connection so that the decisions we make and the courses we set will keep us closer to it. That’s both the message behind my work and the life that I try to live as an artist.

Q: What is the art piece “Overflow” about?

A: At that time I was doing a series of paintings about how one psychologically perceives space, not as a collection of separate objects but as a holistic experience. It was about not “naming” anything in the room and yet conveying the experience of it.

Q: That reminds me of the book by Jill Bolt Taylor “My Stroke Of Insight” where she talks about being in the right side of her brain, seeing things and people in forms of energy, and being in an essence of feeling. What are your thoughts on that?

A: For me that’s the real joy of making art or involving oneself in any craft, it’s really getting into that meditative zone of being, seeing, doing. We all need that form of nonobjective concentration.

Q: Your painting “Spills” looks so tactile. Did you use layers and layers of paint to give such a rich texture to this painting and others?

A: I think of paint and color as symptomatic of a piece's subject, so I really let loose when handling the scene of drunken debauchery in "Spills" -- the handling matches the content. But yes I am very interested in the surface quality of my pieces, and mine are often gloppy, smooth and crusty all at once. In "Overflow", for example, I was making marks on top of marks and both reducing and adding information. Each piece develops a life, a history; it's like reading craters on the surface of the moon.

Q: I noticed, in your work “Arctic Man” a touch of Cubism. Did certain painters influence you?

A: I am shamelessly influenced by all sorts of artists -- I try to take inspiration wherever I can find it, and not only from art. The painting "Spills" is my take on Titian's "Bacchanal", a moral painting about the balance between self-control versus self-indulgence. I think most inspiration works its way in subliminally over time. Right now I am looking at Picasso's still lifes, tapestries from the cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum, Irish artist Hughie O'Donoghue, and the painter Tintoretto.

Q: After seeing your work online I really want to see up close. Please describe one of your pieces in terms of size, medium etc…?

A: I really enjoyed making "Sleepers" (the lightbox) because it involved such a different media approach; I was just making it up as I went along. I was thinking about how a Photoshop image is built out of transparent layers, so I did this ink and acrylic painting on several layers of Plexiglas, with a couple real lights shining through it. I had to take all these different media and my own imagery into account and get them into some kind of new equilibrium.

Q: What regional influences do you have?

A: I was raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, and my parents really taught me to value hard work. My dad is a hunter and we used to butt heads about that when I was younger, but now I'm glad he'd made me come with him to northern Michigan to spend time in the woods and fields, because it has probably informed my personality quite a bit! We have a beautiful piece of woods in northern Michigan that I really like to spend time in with my siblings.

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