Teresa Dunn, “Cleaning Out the Rabbit Hole”, 30″ x 24″, oil on panel, 2009
Here’s another installment of our series, asking a painter how she or he decides a painting is “finished”. This one comes from Teresa Dunn, a painter living in Lansing, MI. Her most recent solo exhibition were at Hooks-Epstein Gallery in Houston and First Street Gallery in New York. In this interview, Teresa counters with the idea of being good at lingering on painting, and how it is exciting to make an object that feels like a move toward rather than an end itself.
Are you a good closer?
I have been both a good closer and a not so good closer. I am not convinced it is a good thing for me to be a good closer. In fact, being a slow closer seems to be a more positive and productive experience for my paintings. At recent body of narrative paintings work that I had developed over the last few years ended with the paintings coming to a close too quickly. Perhaps this was due to too much solving in collage studies, maybe I’d lost touch with observation, or the story telling ideas had just lost their luster and I was painting to the image. Since ending that body of works I have made an abrupt and clean break from almost everything familiar to my previous processes and ideas. This has effectively made me a bad closer but a good lingerer. I linger in surface, color, and the sensation of a fresh discovery. I hope to simultaneously maintain the drama of initial and frantic notation while developing a deeper connection to the senses. This means leaving many discernable traces of imagery behind, abandoning (for now) the story and the figure, and placing roadblocks in my way when I am in danger of knowing and showing too much. I am enjoying the space of discovery, the unknown, risk, keeping closure at bay.
Is it easy or difficult for you to be finished with a piece? Do you make a clean break or let it go kicking and screaming?
Currently it is difficult to call any of my works finished and difficult to want to be finished. While in the past I have been committed to working one painting at a time until I can do no more, it seems almost necessary to juggle multiple pieces, moving back and forth between differing degrees of open and close. Although when I find resolution or certain satisfaction, I can let the work go, even if everything isn’t solidified. If a painting points to something else engaging I move towards that. I need to re-open the new question in a fresh surface where it has room to run and breathe.
When you call it done are you smiling? Is your relationship to finishing troubling to you at all?
With this new work I feel both relief and an enduring itch when I set a piece aside. Ideas that are still unresolved, or maybe questions that emerge during the painting process are wide open to be explored in new work.
How do you see yourself compared to your peers, in terms of how easily you call an artwork finished? How much does the idea of calling things finished affect the type of painting you make or how you define yourself as a painter?
Finished and resolved are two different things for me. A degree of polish used to be a marker of finishing a painting, or pushing an image to an envisioned zone. That is not important to me now as an overall goal. I prefer to gauge my work through resolve. Am I resolving the painting through surface intrigue, unexpected mark making, variety in tightness or looseness, breadth of pattern and texture, atmospheric sensibility, and sensuality in color and touch. What this adds up to for my current paintings are making images that are abstractions or moving towards abstraction. Yet I am much more in touch with observing the world around me than I have been in years. This is not to say that there isn’t a sense of object-hood or figuration. Only that thingness and the narrative are taking a back seat.
Any other thoughts on finishing?
Perhaps the figure, the story, and illusion will filter back into the work in more discernable ways. Maybe I will find more importance in closing again. But I am relishing the world of lingering. Being immersed in the painting stew where colors and surfaces simmer and bubble is a really exciting place to be.
Great! Thanks, Teresa!
UPDATE: Here’s one of the recent paintings referenced above:
60″ x 118″, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 2015