Everyday experiences embodied in Kyle Vu-Dunn’s painterly queer world
Having started from more abstract compositions, Kyle Vu-Dunn’s (b.1990) work now is successfully concentrated on figurative works celebrating a queer-wise painterly depiction and direction. His latest works are about “men allowing themselves to be soft, vulnerable, silly, sensual, desirable” as the artist highlights himself. Either with a striking use of colours or with the emotional information reflected in his paintings, Vu-Dunn clearly emphasises on a very controversial part of the male identity; the physiological struggle that characterise modern men and young boys. Deconstructing machismo as an old fashioned concept, Dunn also points out that “so much harm is done in the world by masculinity; we raise boys to think they can’t express emotion and it hurts them”. Hence, observing Vu-Dunn’s work is a great opportunity to consider challenging the conservative terms associated with the male representation.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Kyle Vu-Dunn, Narcissy, 2017, Acrylic and crayon on fiberglass and plaster reinforced foam, 28.5 x 24 x 1″, courtesy the artist
Kyle Vu-Dunn’s work openly celebrates uncomplicated relationships between same-sex partners; affection, intimacy, vulnerability, unbothered sexual expression consist his main thematics in a remarkable way. Often considered to depict an alluring masculine ethos, Vu- Dunn’s imagery undeniably draws attention on nudity; his work puts an emphasis on the bodily familiarity rendering a liberating sense of the male naked body in front the viewers’ eyes.
Night Kiss (2017) is a purely powerful, but also sensitive, depiction of a young gay couple portrayed by an inspiring body language; exalting the sexual desire, both naked are about to give a night kiss with their eyes closed and their hands situated in a very tender position creating an image of unity. Its iconographic and amorous components are defined by a colour representation joyfully rendered, while vivid body movements also add an alluring visual language. In the artworks Big Stretch (2017) and After-Party(2017) the audience sees naked men in ordinary positions in a domestic environment depicted through an honest and original viewpoint.
Overall, Vu-Dunn’s works invite the viewer to rethink the world from a perspective characterised by a more queer vision of life, a different but parallel space in which much is freely expressed with love and joy and anything else is less explained. His background is rooted in the aestheticism of Takato Yamamoto, the grotesque beauty of Paula Rego and the avant-gardism of Balthus, providing Dunn with ample creative inspiration.
Born in Livonia, Michigan, Vu-Dunn now lives and works in New York. He received his BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2012. The artist has received grants from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and has also held residencies at The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild and The Scholastic Atelier Artist in Residence Program. He has many group and solo exhibitions in his record so far and Leaves Don’t Thank the Sunwas his last show at the Sardine gallery in New York.
In his interview with Art Verge, Kyle Vu-Dunn is considerate in his answers, shares his approach to art and sociocultural issues and provides some interesting insights about his daily life. Check it out!
Art Verge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Kyle Vu-Dunn: I am always collecting source material for new work–taking photos myself, sketching, Google imaging–and when these start to coalesce into a more defined image, I begin to make color studies for the work. I try to be specific with my palette and want it to reflect the emotional state of the subjects in each work. I’ve found the more leg work I put into these preparative stages the better the painting is, not to say that there isn’t an occasional happy accident or intuitive, in-the-moment decision. These new works are reliefs made of plaster and foam then painted in acrylic, so having these plans help as I’m more or less locked into the image once the carving is finished.
AV: How would you define your work in few words (ideally in 3 words)?
VD: Sensual, lurid, playful
AV: Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
VD: Takato Yamamoto, Dana Schutz, Ren Hang, Balthus, Paula Rego. All of these artists understand/understood the presence of the viewer and how to really electrify the quotidian.
AV: Creating a new painting is a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?
VD: When I was preparing for my most recent solo show I became more or less a hermit. I am a very social person naturally, but left to my own devices I could only paint all day long haha. I did a residency in upstate New York a few years back, and spent the majority of the time in seclusion and loved it. Being isolated in nature definitely helped though.
AV: How do you know when a painting is finished?
VD: I usually know when I can’t add anything else. When different parts of the work are reacting or bouncing off each other in the right way. But it takes time with each piece to know.
AV: What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
VD: My studio is in the basement of my apartment building in Queens, which is wonderful. It’s industrial-like unfinished space, so I can be as messy as I want, and my apartment is only a flight of stairs away!
AV: Which exhibition did you visit last?
VD: The last show I visited was “We Will Win” by Didier William at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Brooklyn. I can not recommend it enough. The surfaces were some mysterious hybrid of collage, perforated cloth, and paint, and all had this kind of powdery Yves Klein type of finish in velvety black which was really something. Like his technique, the imagery in the show was mysterious but lovely.
AV: What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
VD: These new pieces are about men allowing themselves to be soft, vulnerable, silly, sensual, desirable. So much harm is done in the world by masculinity; we raise boys to think they can’t express emotion and it hurts them, and they hurt other people. So I think there is value in making images of men not taking themselves so seriously and of showing tenderness.
AV: What does your mum think about your art?
VD: She is not an “art person” per se, but she is and always has been very supportive of me.
AV: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
KV: My favorite time to be in the studio is at dawn and dusk. I love to stay up all night and go to bed around 11 AM, then sleep through the afternoon. I don’t get to do that very often, but when I do it’s always very productive! I get into a very focused headspace when I’m allowed to work that long, and there’s something nice about being up-and-at-it while dawn is happening. As a kid, I would sneak to the park with my twin on our bikes at predawn and it’s always had a magic edge for me.
AV: Is the glass half empty or half full?
KV: Context is key! But I lean toward full.
AV: Which are your plans for the near future?
KV: I am working on drawings and small paintings on paper right now–I had such an intense lead up to my show at Sardine, and working on paper is a great way for me to quickly cycle through ideas and in a way that’s less committed time-wise than the relief work. I have a solo show coming up in April in Chicago and I anticipate showing half drawings and half reliefs (they’re growing on me)!