It's always difficult painting a portrait of someone you don't know well. Until the Inspired Resistance opening, I had only seen Melissa Dunn's work on the internet. I was shocked at how different it looks in person. Her work is so very daring and complicated, with a wisdom that speaks of years of hard work in the medium. With great confidence, she juxtaposes visual elements that are extremely different one from the other. If a novice were to try that, it would be a terrible mess. But, using this tension of varied visual devices, she achieves an inexplicable harmony.
As I looked at Last Week of April yesterday, what came most to mind was a passage of Swann's Way. Swann, a highly cultured man, is describing art to his lower-class girlfriend, Odette:
"If Swann then tried to teach her what artistic beauty was, how one should admire poetry or painting, after a moment she would stop listening, saying, 'Yes... I didn't imagine it was quite like that.' And he would sense that she was feeling such disappointment that he would prefer to lie, telling her that what he had said was nothing, that it was the least important part, that he did not have the time to go into things more deeply, that there was something else. But she would say to him sharply: 'Something else? What?... Say it, then,' but he would not say it, knowing it would seem feeble to her and different from what she was hoping for, less sensational and less touching, and fearing that, disillusioned by art, she would at the same time be disillusioned by love."
I thought of this passage, one of my favorites in the novel, because at the opening I had tried to "explain" this painting to my sister (who looks like Odette). It's a relevant passage because Dunn's paintings cannot really be explained. You can approach them with words and with photographs, but they must be seen to be understood.
I hope it will convey some of the power of her painting, when I say that, although I hadn't met her before, it came quite easily to me to paint Melissa's portrait after I saw this show.
There was a great Gallery Talk at Inspired Resistance yesterday. I sketched some of the people there:
Go see the show, which is at Crosstown Arts until Saturday (Gallery hours Tuesday - Saturday 10 - 6).
I asked her about the relation of her work to typology, such as the typology of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher.
"A fascinating aspect of the seriality of the resulting images is -
beyond the insistence of repetition - the powerful emphasis of
individual forms in the larger context. So much so that the exercise
evokes a certain othering of these commonplace structures in
very much the same way that repeating a word over and over makes us
aware of the innate 'strangeness' we never knew it embodied."
In answer to my question at the lecture, she told us she doesn't really see her work as belonging to the field of typology, and I agree that it can't be classified as typology of a particular image or of a particular scene. But I wonder if you can't photograph a typology of a concept, typology of an idea, and when viewed in this way I think her work really begins to come into its own. Look at the photographs: they seem to give you a global concept of how a human being (and in this case a particular human being) is viewed by the world. I can't tell you exactly what I mean by this, because the way she is viewed by the world can't really be pinned down into words -- but that's the beauty of typology, I think, and visual art in general, that it gets at what can't be put into words.
I have always felt a close affinity for the idea of typology. It was what I was thinking of when I embarked on my project of painting portraits of violets. I think my current project of painting portraits of Memphis artists can be experienced in the same way. When viewed together, I want not to give you an image of the Memphis artist, but to provoke a concept to form in your mind of what a Memphis artist is and what being a Memphis artist might mean.
Now, I wonder how the art concept of typology relates to personality typing? I would say it doesn't relate, because rather than presenting a group of people of a type and allowing the reader to draw her own conclusions, it gets very specific about the traits of each type. I would say this, if what is written about the MBTI types weren't so scarily accurate. It actually says that people like me are on a constant search for "Truth" and that we believe in absolute Truth.
"People with the INTP personality type are global thinkers. They see everything
as one giant Entity that is connected, and seek knowledge about that Entity.
They constantly seek the Truth,
and have ultimate respect for the Truth...Once they have reached a conclusion, or discovered a Truth,
they are *very* particular about the way that Truth is expressed and
Remember when I said, "These thoughts are notoriously hard to communicate and writings about
Truth have been famously misconstrued (to mean exactly the opposite of
their intended meaning, in fact)"? Yeah...
I don't know if I've ever been more baffled by anything in my life.
I also saw a performance of the Luther College Nordic Choir. They are the best choir in the country, I'm told, and they were amazing. For the encore, they left the stage and stood around the audience in the aisles, holding hands. The songs they sang then were like incantations.