As Naomi Fry writes in a New Yorker article which you can read in full here, ‘There is something enigmatic about Carroll Dunham’s work, even though the painterly vocabulary he employs appears to be straightforward. Using bold planes of colour and almost cartoonish outlines, Dunham often depicts naked human figures in imagined natural landscapes, populated with naïvely rendered trees and birds, dogs and flowers. In his paintings and drawings of heavy-breasted, thick-thighed women bathing, or of hirsute men wrestling one another, Dunham allows the viewer to encounter life in vivid, animated action. And yet there is a palpable opacity to his subjects. Who are these half-biblical, half-science-fictional figures, with their button-like nipples and dark tufts of pubic hair, their bodies splayed jarringly against an indifferently cheerful landscape? What is the purpose and meaning of the obscure rituals that Dunham paints these characters engaging in, with their eyes averted from the viewer, as if reluctant to have their private customs disturbed or even looked at?’

Dunham’s path to the figurative naked body has been unconventional. He grew up in Connecticut, where he attended Trinity College in Hartford, then moved to New York City in the early 1970s and began working as an assistant to the painter Dorothea Rockburne. His work was influenced by the pared-down minimalist approach of Rockburne and her milieu. For twenty years or so Dunham’s paintings and drawings hewed closely to abstraction, depicting spare, systemic whorls of line and colour.

As the years went on and his career developed, Dunham found himself increasingly drawn to depicting the human figure, first as part of a semi-abstract pictorial language, from which repeating symbols emerged, then increasingly in fully fleshed-out images of men and women, a rich vein that he has now been pursuing for nearly two decades.

Dunham is married to the artist Laurie Simmons, with whom he has two children, the director, writer and actor Lena Dunham, and the writer and activist Cyrus Dunham. The couple shares their time between a house in Connecticut, where Dunham also keeps his painting studio, and an apartment near New York’s Union Square.

Carroll Dunham is now one of the most successful and well-respected American painters of his generation, his work collected by numerous art institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum Ludwig. In 2022 his paintings were shown in a solo exhibition at the Eva Presenhuber Gallery in Zürich, where Dunham depicted his familiar women and men not just separately but also for the first time in heterosexual coupling.

Carroll Dunham’s website is here, with many more examples of his work and links to press articles and other resources.

We are very grateful to our Russian friend Yuri for introducing us to the work of this artist.


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