q&a with mark dunstan


I caught up with Mark Dunstan last week when he was installing his paintings for the “Jackson Rising” exhibit at the Art Association galleries. Mark is a soft-spoken guy who makes bold, challenging paintings full of symbols and mythology. He’s particularly adept at painting women, who often appear in his work as figures to be revered. Mark chatted with me about the elusive “meaning” of one of his latest works, “A Sleeper Dreams, a Landscape Waits.”

CF: Tell me about your process for this painting, “A Sleeper Dreams, a Landscape Waits.”

MD: I’ve always been attached to the idea of collage. I go through phases where I paint a lot and then cut a bunch of things out of magazines and start doing collage. I really like that way of piecing things together and juxtaposing unrelated things. I like how you can arrange them and make a scene out of that. So for this painting, these are all from figure drawings.

I’ve always had a few different things going on in my practice, the way I paint versus the way I draw. There was always a differing way of doing things. I’ve been trying to work different worlds into one whole thing. I think that combination of effects is nice.

CF: In this painting, the figures are all waiting…

MD: Yeah, they are waiting for something that might happen. I like to bring that kind of abstraction to paintings, to put in these thought bubbles and cartoony elements and patterns. I like that it looks like there is something to solve there. If I were to encounter this painting, it would give me a feeling that there is some depth that would make me curious. But certainly, as a picture as a whole, I don’t plan for anyone to have a final consensus about its meaning.

CF: How do people tend to respond to your work?

MD: The most common response to my work is to ask questions like, “What’s it all about?” Which is the hardest question to answer because it’s not about one thing… A lot of people just want a message, for someone to paint it and they receive it. But I’ve never been interested in that sort of work; it’s almost like propaganda. I think if more audience members were open to whatever kind of reception, to just looking at a piece of art and enjoying looking at it, then they would have a nice time. Especially if they look for a long time.

So lately I’ve been working with how to play off the idea that it looks like there’s something meant by my paintings, so how do I keep people from getting frustrated if they cant find the meaning.

CF: Since this painting might be of a dream, maybe that makes it more understandable that the meaning isn’t clear?

MD: That’s really where I’ve found traction with this idea. Dreams are the one part of the world now that we all share as an unknown. I think we’ve explained or disproved so much through science that we don’t have as many mysteries. In dreams or in the deep oceans – those are the areas of the world that are still mysterious.

See Mark Dunstan’s “A Sleeper Dreams, a Landscape Waits” and other cutting edge work by Jackson artists through September 17 at the Art Association.


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