Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Alphonso Dunn Emerges

Some time ago, I heard from Alphonso Dunn. He had recently left the New York Academy of Art and just beginning to build his body of work. He had left Jamaica while still a teenager and was interested in his connection to Jamaica, which was evident through his work. I began plans to feature this artist next on this blogspot. Suddenly, Alphonso disappeared from our radar and time passed. Alphonso has recently resurfaced with exciting news of new directions, group shows in New York and studio life. Now is the time for ART:Jamaica to introduce you to Alphonso Dunn.

So I would like to just hear about the experience of leaving Jamaica for the U.S.,.
AD: I moved to the states with my mother and sisters when I was 17. I had almost finished high school in Jamaica.

Were you interested in art before that?
AD: Although throughout my earlier school years I concentrated most of efforts in the sciences—aspiring to be a doctor—I was always active in art, whether doodling or copying tirelessly from art instruction books , comics and cartoons. My earliest memories in art are from second grade, drawing comic book characters and creating superheroes. But it was while attending St. Jago High School that I started to really hone my drawing skills, and took art much more seriously. I entered several art and poster competitions and often placed very well. It was there too that I had my first apprenticeship-like experience, via my two art teachers; Mr. Barrett and Mr. Collins. Mr. Barrett was more the abtract expressionist and Mr. Collins the realist, but both more or less figurative artists. I copied inexhaustibly from Mr. Collins' drawings and spent countless hours discussing art theory and ideas with Mr. Barrett. They were very nurturing and complemented each other very well, as opposite in temperament as they were. Looking back, that was an integral component of my artistic development. Even now, more than 13 years later I still make it a priority to visit them whenever I'm in Jamaica.

What was the experience of attending New York Academy of Art?
AD: After moving to the states, I did a year of high school before going to study Chemistry at William Paterson University, in NJ. I was still bent on going to medical school but was able to squeeze in one figure drawing course. While in school I amassed an impressive collection of figure drawing instruction books, which I practiced from voraciously. I was virtually self-taught between high school and grad school, which inadvertently provided me with a portfolio of work to submit for grad school admission.
Upon graduating college I decided to pursue a formal art education. It took much courage to do this because I had to accept I would disappoint the expectations of people that were very important to me. But in some weird way I knew they understood.
My two years at the New York Academy of Art were two of the most wonderful years of my life. It was my first time indulging in such a rich and nurturing space of people, whose sole aspiration was set on making figurative fine art. The Academy, as a graduate school, is unique for placing the study and representation of the figure and its conceptual and metaphorical aspects at the center of its curriculum. I was in heaven.

How did you relate to studying the European-derived academic approach to art.
AD: Interestingly, I was already familiar with much of the European masters and the academic approach to representation through my many books on art. It was exciting to be around people who felt just as passionate about the representation of the figure, both instructors and students alike. Regrettably, however, I had to seek outside the academy for any information or instruction on the art of people who were non-Caucasian. This was not a new experience, and was not unexpected. My priority was to develop my skills at representing the figure as best as I could.

How does your Caribbean orientation affect the way you make work (subject matter, concepts, process etc.)?
AD: I'm not sure there how easy it is to articulate the nature and degree of influence of my Caribbean heritage on the ideas behind my work, no more than I can acknowledge the plight of the African Diaspora virtually everywhere...
I think of all the aspects of my work, my Caribbean background speaks most strongly through my passion for draftsmanship and the figure. Growing up in Jamaica, I had virtually no access to any other medium but pencil and ink, and occasionally poster paint. I only read of oil and acrylic, and sculpture was as remote as an art supply store. I focused my energies on what tools I had: cheap HB and colored pencils, and extra-fine point writing pens. Thus, started my life-long love affair with line.
Even today I doubt most children in Jamaica have access to any more medium than I did back then. But with learning several years later the importance and centrality of drawing to other arts, I have no regret that drawing was my involuntary choice.

Tell me about a recent body of work and your future plans for your artistic growth and your search to link with the Jamaican arts community.
AD: My recent work comes from years of trying to find an effective way to translate my ideas though a visual language that best complements and challenges my way of creating. I love realism and I love abstraction, but I resent realism and abstraction for their own sake. My work, ultimately, is driven from a place unique to me as a child of the African Diaspora and as a member of a very troubled and complex human race.
I want to make art that provoke questions and addresses concerns about perception and truth, the human imagination and power, and their effect on how we construct meaning and drive our relations with the world, others and ourselves.
In my drawings there is an unsettling tension created by the juxtapositions between text and image, childlike drawing and naturalistic representation, that challenges the viewer to intermittently suspend and reframe “adult” perceptions and judgments and become engrossed in a dynamic cross-referencing in order to construct a comprehensive meaning of the work. Neither language nor image is all-inclusive of meaning or truth, but through the seductive engagement of the imagination, perception is framed and realities made of figments. This visual experience calls attention to a reevaluation of our own habitual ways of seeing, deferring our seemingly automatic inner-processes of constructing meaning and directing action; the experience of finding what I refer to as our perception’s locus of control.

I hope to interact with other artists of the Jamaica and Caribbean and engage in meaningful exchange on art, ideas, and finding and defining our space and clarifying questions. I believe all true artists are intellectuals, yearning for discussion.

You may contact the featured artist and see more of his work at www.alphonsodunn.com



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