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Artist Interview: Sheila Dunn

Sheila Dunn has a way of adding geometry and color to the human form while maintaining fluidity and solid realism. Her work is bold like her brush strokes and she captures the complexity and beauty of femininity.

Culture Seen: Tell us a little about yourself.

Sheila Dunn: I was born into a big, wild, tight-knit Irish Catholic family and raised in the foothills of northern Colorado. When I wasn’t tromping through creeks and woods with my siblings and countless cousins I spent many hours creating as a child. Dancing, singing and writing stories eventually gave way to painting, which became my main interest. In 2006 I received a BFA in painting and a minor in art history from Colorado State University. The most pivotal part of my undergrad experience was studying abroad in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy. It really solidified my love for the creative process (even when it’s maddening!) and illuminated art’s ability to help us make sense of the past and relate to the present. After college I fluttered about for several years, traveling to various countries (despite being more or less broke), teaching yoga and learning a great deal about myself along in the way. Six years ago I moved to Bend, Oregon on a total whim. I’m still more or less broke, but I’m doing what I love in a beautiful place so it’s worth it!

Sheila Dunn, Nude in Blue II, oil on canvas, 24" x 36"
Nude in Blue II, oil on canvas, 24″ x 36″

CS: When did you first discover you were an artist?

SD: I’ve been interested in creating for as long as I can remember. I still recall most of my art projects from elementary school and even at six years old something as goofy as creating a Santa Claus ornament out of a crushed soda can would absorb all my attention and felt somehow important.  Though I felt a deep investment in my work from the beginning, it wasn’t until high school – with the support and recognition of some incredible teachers – that I began to identify as being an artist. An identification process which, as it turns out, is still and will likely always be evolving.

CS: Are their any particular influences for your work (other artists, music, literature, etc)?

SD: Oh geez, too many to mention. I am constantly listening to music and reading poetry and researching other artists. And I am sure this translates into my work in ways that are often too obscure – or too subtle – for me to explain.

Sheila Dunn, The Interim, oil on canvas, 36"x48"
The Interim, oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″

CS: What is your technical process? Can you tell us more about how you create your work?

SD: In college most of my figure work was done from referencing models but now the majority is based off photographs I take, namely because asking a friend to model for hours at a time feels like a lot. Once I have my vision/image I spend over an hour mixing A LOT of oil colors on two big glass palettes – I counted once and it was in the vicinity of 100 different tones. Then I typically cover the stark white canvas with a bright acrylic undertone because I like to base my shadows and highlights off a midtone. And I always leave portions of the undertone showing through the figure because it creates a lovely, luminous depth. Then comes hours and hours of painting: turning my canvas every which way, squinting, cursing, listening to music, laughing or crying to a podcast (depending on the episode) and drinking tea, kombucha or vino tinto (depending on the time of day).

Sheila Dunn "Nude in White", oil on board, 36" x 36"
“Nude in White”, oil on board, 36″ x 36″

CS: Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which one was your favorite?

SD: It’s difficult to narrow down a favorite, but one of my coolest experiences as an artist was painting Nude in White. I started the 36” x 36” piece one day after work around 6pm, thinking I’d at least get a rough sketch done. But then I tapped into some kind of crazy wellspring of creative energy and ended up finishing it around 4am. I have NEVER completed a painting that size in one sitting. Generally, those take me weeks. I’m not sure I will ever channel that kind of creative force again but it was a pretty amazing experience. And to this day, Nude in White remains one of my favorite paintings because I think it really captures the sense of immediacy and fluidity I experienced that evening.

Sheila Dunn, Nicholle, oil on canvas, 30"x40"
Nicholle, oil on canvas, 30″ x 40″

CS: What are you working on or thinking about now?

SD: I’m busy painting a new series for several upcoming shows. I’m experimenting with a slightly different color palette this time around and really like how it’s turning out.

Sheila Dunn in her art studio
Sheila Dunn in her studio

CS: Where can we find your work?

SD: My work will be at Bellatazza in March as part of the Muse Conference Art Walk. Then I am showing at Naked Winery in April followed by Deschutes Brewery in May 2015.

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