Kaidi Dunstan’s first show took place some 20 years ago, in a small Deloney Street gallery. In a matter of hours, the exhibit was close to sold out. Her first collection of oil paintings, a grouping of still lifes and portrayals of the female human figure were so masterfully painted as to remind us of the great Post Impressionists Gauguin and Cezanne. Dunstan’s compositions were inspired by some of the former’s paintings of Tahitian women, and a small study of a bowl of cherries could have been snatched from the latter’s studio. Dunstan displayed, with her premiere show, a genius for mixing and applying paint. Evident, too, was an affinity for capturing exotic color and patterns.
Transported, Dunstan’s first Jackson show in some years, opened February 22 at the Tayloe Piggott Gallery. An opening reception takes place Friday, February 26, and the exhibit remains up through April 17.
Dunstan currently lives in London. Her life, recently touched by personal tragedy,—she lost her husband to cancer—remains enigmatic to the public at large. Though Dunstan’s work is contemporary and her colors echo those of the Expressionists, her work can be likened to Kiki Smith’s “Victorian” artistic interpretation of mourning. Dunstan continues to work on the human figure, but her work has become almost completely abstract. Faces and human forms are transparent and Dunstan’s paintings are marked by overlapping lines and mosaics of color. Structurally, she’s turned her paintings inside out. They look as if they were complicated to create, and they are. Dunstan uses transfer paper as a material on which to sketch, then transfers that drawing to another surface like canvas or paper. She can use her original image over and over, and so creates multiple layers of the same image in a single work.
Often, Dunstan’s forms seem to be dissolving before our eyes.
“The human figure holds an enduring fascination for me providing both oddness and mystery,” says Dunstan. She has incorporated media images of daily disasters into recent work, and is otherwise taking materials from the world at large into the maze of her compositions. Through the imposed mystery and hints of grief emerge works that, with their bow to biology and minutiae, speak of teeming life.
The large nude double-portrait I purchased at Dunstan’s first show remains the centerpiece of my own little art collection. And to this day, it’s often mistaken for a Gauguin by those seeing the painting for the first time.